kan·​ban ˈkän-ˌbän How to pronounce kanban (audio)
often attributive

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The History of the Kanban System

Toyota Motor Company is credited with developing the kanban system of manufacturing, which takes its name from the Japanese word for "sign" or "placard." In the kanban system, each shipment of parts used in making a product comes with a kanban, or sign. When the parts are nearly exhausted, the sign is sent to suppliers, who ship new ones to the assembly line. In the early 1980s, kanban became a buzzword in the American business community-offering a perfect example of how languages often reflect larger societal trends … and how trading partners often trade more than durable goods.

Word History


Japanese, sign, placard; from the cards used on assembly lines to signal that parts are needed

First Known Use

1977, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of kanban was in 1977


Dictionary Entries Near kanban

Cite this Entry

“Kanban.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kanban. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

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