Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sun Jan 15 03:47:11 UTC 2012

I'm having trouble with the OED's definition 1 for kanban. It says:

In Japanese industry: a card or sheet displaying a set of manufacturing specifications and requirements which is circulated to suppliers and sent along a production line to regulate the supply of components.

At essence, a kanban (or kanban card) is simply a card that identifies a component and accompanies that component (or box, etc. of components). Typically the kanban accompanies the component when it is delivered to the line. When the worker uses the component (or uses up the box of components), the worker sends the kanban back to production. Production then knows that a replacement is needed.

Sure, as the OED definition says, the kanban can also be sent to the supplier, and I suppose it can include specifications and requirements, but those are incidental to the kanban.

I wonder if the third citation has caused confusion. It says:

A Kanban is actually a small card on which directions are given to produce or deliver a certain item. A Kanban is thus a tool that triggers production or delivery of necessary products in the appropriate quantities at the precise time. The simplicity of Kanban is refreshing—no elaborate computer programs or multisheet ordering forms.

I would take "directions are given to produce or deliver a certain item" to be somewhat metaphorical. It may be that there is a system that actually has a set of directions, but my general take would be that the kanban itself is the "directions." When production gets the kanban, the "directions" are "order another one of me."

Also, I think "Japanese industry" might be expanded to "lean manufacturing."

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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