What is Andon?
Andon is a Lean tool that streamlines the process of fixing glitches in the system. It can take the form of a light that an operator turns on when something goes wrong, like a faulty part or running out of a part, or anything else that quickly draws attention to the problem.
How does an Andon system work?
Andon systems alert everyone in the area of the problem that has been identified. This spreads the word quickly and decreases the amount of time necessary to find and implement a solution, which could be as straightforward as replacing the faulty part or as complicated as an impromptu Kaizen event to tackle a problem without a clear answer.
Why do people use Andon?
The value of an Andon system is in the speed of resolution, which also reduces the classic waste of time. Without an Andon, the message of a problem may go through several channels before reaching the person or group who can help.
Familiar Andon practices
Andon Board: The statuses of critical projects are posted and tracked on a board like a whiteboard or a TV. An indicator such as the red, yellow, and green dots or lights make it easy to see which projects need additional help and which ones are going well. The board is placed in a common space where people are likely to see it frequently as they go about their daily work.
Andon Light: An operator pulls an Andon cord to turn on the light when a problem occurs. This light is high enough in the air to be seen by everyone in the area. Training has taught everyone what to do when this light goes on. That means there are more people to help implement the solution. Some Andon lights are actually multiple lights. When things are running as expected, the green light is on. If things start to fall behind or show signs of failure, the yellow light goes on. If something has happened that needs immediate attention, the red light goes on. The lights can be turned on or off by the machine operator, or by the machine itself in some cases. That’s just an example and some Andon light sets have up to five lights. The key is to figure out what level of complexity is needed in that particular work station and the overall facility.
Andon Flags: These work basically the same way as lights, but cost less, are easier to maintain, and can be trickier to notice from a distance. They are attached to the work station in a similar way to how the lights would be.
Less familiar Andon practices
Administrative process updates: Rather than lights or flags, or music, bells or any other sound, an administrative process may use email updates to encourage action or solutions. For example, if a new vendor is being set up in the purchasing system and the person responsible for the entering the information into the system hasn’t received all of the necessary information, an email reminder with a specific type of subject or content may be sent, similar to a yellow light. If the reminders don’t work, the next email may state that the work on this vendor has been halted due to lack of information and will continue when the information is received, like a red light.
New Hire information packets are running low: In the situation where the dreaded paperwork is required for legal compliance, a flag or even a simple sticky note on the outside of the storage cabinet could tell the team that the packets are running out and need to be reordered or reprinted. Rather than the orientation leader arriving on Monday to find there aren’t enough packets for all the new employees, someone could see the Andon indicator ahead of time and replenish the supply.
Next steps toward Andon for all
Not every problem can or should be solved with an Andon, but Andon can help anywhere. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to structure it. The HR team doesn’t want to use a flashing light to announce to the world that they are conducting a time sensitive employee relations investigation, but they could probably benefit from a simpler way to inform the team that they need help with the presentation skills training that’s scheduled for next week.
Here are some ideas of how to bring Andon to the whole organization:
- Share the information about Andon systems with the whole organization
- Post Andon success stories in central locations like a lunch room to promote new Andon solutions in unexpected places
- Offer resources to help teams identify their own Andon opportunities
- Show the collective results of existing Andon systems to build credibility within the organization and recognize the teams who are using them effectively
- Listen for pain points that might be solved with an Andon solution