a just-in-time method of inventory control, originally developed in Japanese automobile factories.

< Japanese kamban literally, ‘signboard, shopkeeper's in-business sign', probably alluding to the shop or tavern keeper's final call for orders before taking the sign down, hence 'last-minute, just in time' in the context of inventory control < Middle Chinese, equivalent to Chinese kàn ‘look’ + bǎn ‘printing block’

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World English Dictionary
kanban (ˈkænbæn)
1.  a just-in-time manufacturing process in which the movements of materials through a process are recorded on specially designed cards
2.  any of the cards used for ordering materials in such a system
[literally: advertisement hoarding]

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Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon
Main Entry:  kanban
Part of Speech:  n
Definition:  in manufacturing, a written set of specifications and requirements for production of a commodity and inventory control of the components needed; a manufacturing system or assembly line using such written specifications; also called just-in-time
Etymology:  Japanese 'sign, poster'
Usage:  Japanese
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Example sentences
They established the kanban system, in which parts and supplies are ordered as they are being used.
Kanban supermarkets were identified, implemented and monitored.
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