What is Kanban in production control?

Kanban: A method for an improved value chain

A company's internal logistics, i.e. all processes relating to intralogistics, are fundamental to its competitiveness. In view of global supply and goods flows, the topic is more important than ever, as customer demands are increasing at the same time. Optimizing material flows with the help of Kanban promises greater flexibility and agility to deal with varying demand situations.

The method, whose name is derived from the Japanese and can be translated as "card" or "receipt", is used for production process control.

What exactly is Kanban and what is it used for?

Let's take a classic, relatively rigid and centrally administered planning system. The production control system is designed in such a way that all material requirements are planned specifically in advance. However, if a change in throughput now leads to a different material flow, which is also required decentrally, this restricts the company immensely.

This is different with Kanban, a method based on the pull principle. As part of "pull production", the respective consumer can take the desired product directly from the supplier, who receives the order to produce it again after a previously defined kanban quantity has been used.

In other words, with conventional, outdated and centralized production control, a high level of stockpiling is necessary. This not only ties up capital, but is also associated with high storage costs and reduces a company's options for action in the event of "unforeseen" events.

The Kanban method is suitable for optimizing the procurement of relevant individual parts and making it possible to procure them practically "on demand". In practice, a distinction can be made between different Kanban systems, which we describe in more detail in the next paragraph.

Kanban systems in practice: the distinction between transportation and procurement

As visual beings, people can think their way into processes much more easily if they are coordinated and logically and stringently structured. For this reason, Kanban is not only used as a project management method in which work steps are visualized, but above all in logistics management. In order to better understand how Kanban works, we want to focus on production control in an industrial company.

A Kanban system is designed in such a way that stockpiling is bypassed and only the materials are available exactly where they are actually needed. To realize this, so-called Kanban cards are used. They form the core of this method and aim to visualize all tasks - both requested and final tasks. They are now standard in digital form, for example as barcodes or RFID chips. Here you will find information about the project managers, deadlines, the task itself and the respective status. The basic idea behind this is to provide each person with real-time information on the current processing status of a task.

In the context of logistics and production control, this means that Kanban can be used in a targeted manner for handling both transportation and procurement. The following illustration shows what this means in concrete terms.

Transport Kanban

Kanban signals, i.e. production orders in the broader sense, act as a link between the supplier and the production facility. This ensures that products, individual parts, etc. arrive exactly where they are needed according to plan.


Kanban is designed in such a way that upstream production sections communicate with each other by transmitting material requirements and making them available as needed.

Overview of the advantages of Kanban

Kanban aims to flexibly manage storage space and provide resources exactly where they are ultimately needed. This is accompanied by process optimizations based on Kanban, which we would like to summarize below:

  • Optimum use of storage space through needs-based distribution precisely to the respective production site
  • Reduction of search times, as there is no stockpiling and only those elements are available that are relevant at this stage according to the Kanban system
  • The pull system according to Kanban offers an increase in efficiency compared to the push system by eliminating unnecessary transportation of goods
  • Kanban racks enable production control in which logistics specialists can work without hindering each other
  • Optimized material flow so that capacities remain free and storage space can be reduced

In short: Kanban can be used as an order or identification card to significantly improve production control processes.


Image: pluie_r / Shutterstock

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