Andon systems have been a crucial part of the manufacturing floor since Japanese automotive companies first applied Andon principles in the early part of the 20th century.
William Edwards Deming is the pioneer behind the revolutionary approach to production controls. An American engineer based in Japan at the time of World War II, William Edwards Deming was able to help spearhead Japan’s economic recovery after the war.
What is an Andon System?
The word “andon” literally translates to “lantern” in the English language. This term can be closely attributed to the idea of using lights and visual queues to alert others of an ongoing or impending problem. Over the years, the term “andon” has become almost synonymous with signal lights on the production floor.
The first company to apply this type of system was Toyota in Japan. Almost immediately after World War II, Toyota employed the Andon system to improve efficiency on their production line. The andon system empowers employees directly involved in the production process to stop the production line if they detect any errors on their workstation or alert management if they are in need of additional assistance.
Traditional andon systems employ the use of an Andon Cord or button to halt the production line manually. Once the worker pulls on this cord, it sends a signal along the line to alert the appropriate support personnel, eventually reaching the managerial level.
This prompt to action empowers the employees on the line and helps address issues directly at the source without hesitation.
Andon systems employ the use of tower lights, screens, and additional methods of communications. An example of the meaning of visual signals on the floor is: green for normal operations, yellow indicating that changes are called for, and red as an indicator that production has stopped.
Issues in production are logged in the system and recorded for future analysis. Communications are sent to all responders and escalated until the issue has been resolved. This process allows for the most efficient resolution and minimizes production disruptions. Over the years, the Andon system has evolved from the manual Andon cord, to machines automatically indicating issues when a problem has been identified, and further into incorporating pre-programmed automated email and text communications to indicate an alarm.
Andon Systems and the Workflow
Andon systems work to improve efficiency on the production line by reducing the time to identify the error and nipping it right in the bud. Managers can streamline production processes by reducing future issues by taking time to stop production to identify and correct potential problems.
Andon systems help to minimize waste and save time on the production line.
Let’s discuss the other ways it can positively impact workflow:
- With an Andon system, managers can accurately and swiftly identify problem areas. This enhanced data collection means that key decision-makers can identify potential problems early on in the production chain. With experience being the best teacher, companies can develop better processes to avoid production delays in the future.
- Communication is critical on the production floor. An Andon system fosters communication from the assembly line up to the key decision-makers. Making the problem area visible to everyone involved in the production process can help top management decide on steps to help avoid similar problems in the future.
- By implementing an Andon system, assembly line leaders can have better control of the assembly line. More advanced Andon systems help leaders predict line availability and potential issues.
- Andon systems also foster better accountability in the production line and support personnel. Assembly line workers are directly involved in the reporting and problem-solving process; this decreases the chances of assembly line workers potentially hiding any issues in the production process.
Since its inception after World War II, Andon systems have proved to be a valuable asset to manufacturing processes of all kinds. Even better, the systems have evolved from simple lights and cords to automated communications and tracking of response and resolution times. Empowering employees to request assistance and analyzing the data collected by modern Andon systems allows production management to make informed decisions that minimize production issues and improve production flow.