Using Andon to Foster a Continuous Improvement Culture

By Curtis Bird
09 Mar 20

Have you ever looked out across the plant floor and seen all the lights blinking on the machines and wondered if there is one burned out? I’m sure you have a PM step to look for those burned out lights and replace them as needed. But do you know what those lights represent? Is it a signal to tell you the status of the machine? Do you react to the signal or just use it as a reference? The blinking lights, the audible horn sound and the buzzer noise can drive a person mad if you don’t have a process that makes signals mean anything.

What is an Andon System? 

I think most people know that an andon system alerts people when the machine or process needs something. It can be machine downtime, or signal you're out of material or have a quality issue, but if you have no process built around the signal, then it's nothing more than noise in the system and could drive a person to drink.

It originated from the lean methodology of jidoka (meaning stop and fix) and was developed at Toyota for this reason. Andon signals problems, the team reacts to the machine and addresses the problem and ensures the quality of the product before releasing the line to run.

So, if the methodology of stop and fix and building a continuous improvement culture are important to the success of a plant, why then is this simple concept ignored at times?

Have you ever heard these excuses before?

  • No time to stop and fix: Just push the FRG (fault reset go) button and keep it going.
  • Here we go again, out of material. I sure hope I don’t have to work overtime because of this.
  • This piece of work machine keeps jamming. I’m sick of this thing.

An Andon System Case Study 

I used to work at a factory where we wanted to institute an andon system in our facility. Our machines already had the Christmas tree lights on top of them, so we decided to use those as a way to signal when the equipment was down.

The problem was there were so many blinking lights that nobody knew if the situation was real or not. 

And so we decided that we needed to stick with one light tree on each line, and use that as the signal that a machine was down on the line. However, we seemed to get the same issues of someone not shutting off the light from the time before or just switching it on.

Sure, this was really a management issue, but we needed to get to a point where we understood what we wanted out of the process and ensured we built a standard that was easy to follow and that we had everyone’s buy in.

We had to step back and ask "What are the benefits of an andon system?"

  • Andon is a tool that helps support the  jidoka philosophy to stop the line and fix the issues
  • Andon is a form of visual management and to see problems in real time
  • The line and machine status is clearly visible to everyone on the floor
  • It creates transparency within the production process and improves communication
  • Increases responsibility of production operators and the support teams of the issues on the line
  • Provides opportunities to kaizen for improvements

After thinking about the benefits and visualizing a tool to help production operators get the help they need, what we really wanted was a way to create an emergency system like 911 in the plant.

All production had to do was to put in a call, and it would be directed to the correct support department that needed to respond to the issue, whether that be quality engineering, maintenance, material runners, the urgency to respond and help with the problem was the culture we needed. Break down the silos of the different departments and work together to solve the problems.

Also needed was a capture that data and then use that data to go back and understand the recurring problems so that we could do jidoka and implement corrective action. If the teams have the data easily available to them, they will make good decisions.

The Power of an Andon System

Make waste visible, teach what waste looks like and react to the waste to solve problems one by one. By solving problems and involving everyone – including operators and maintenance – you:

  • Raise the skill level of the people
  • Improve the quality of the kaizen event
  • Make your goal of a continuous improvement culture a reality

It wasn’t easy, but a good LES (lean execution system) aided in our vision for andon and helped us solve our biggest problems – knocking them down one by one.

And so just like in the old magazine articles from Outdoor life, "this happened to me!"

Learn how our CloudDISPATCH Andon module can help you solve some of your biggest problems on the plant floor.

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