A guide to Andon in Lean manufacturing
Efficiency is at the center of attention for many manufacturing businesses looking to increase their profit margins. To that end, more companies are exploring practices known to streamline work on a larger scale. One such approach is called Lean manufacturing, a process to boost productivity while reducing waste in the form of materials, time, and energy.
While implementing Lean manufacturing requires dedicated resources and a clear understanding of procedures, nearly 70% of manufacturing companies use a version of the practice because of its important benefits.
One of the main processes within lean manufacturing is Andon, a system with deep roots in the industry. Particularly on the production side of a business, Andon can be used to reduce recurring issues, lower manufacturing costs, and improve turnaround times.
As you explore Lean practices, Andon can improve your processes and enable your teams to work more effectively across the chain of command. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Andon and how you can use the approach to improve your lean manufacturing processes.
This post will cover:
- What an Andon is
- Benefits of Andon
- How to use Andon in Lean manufacturing
- Examples of applying Andon
- How to evaluate a tool to incorporate Andon in your production practices
What is Andon?
An Andon is a system of signals designed to alert operators and team members of issues with the potential to affect a larger production line. Coming from the Japanese word for “light,” the first known use of an Andon was in the Toyota Production System where operators would warn one another of conditions through a series of lighting signals.
What makes an Andon distinct is it empowers individual contributors to indicate issues, even entirely stopping production, to prevent broader performance problems.
What are the types of Andon?
At a basic level, there are two main types of Andon to consider, depending on how they’re being deployed — manual and automatic.
A manual Andon is a physical component on a production line that’s engaged with by an operator to signal an issue. This often takes the form of ropes or cords suspended above assembly line stations at set intervals.
Operators are able to take quick action if they notice a problem by pulling the cord to let team members know of a potential issue. The line is attached to a trigger illuminating a dedicated light to alert others to stop the production line to prevent further problems. The goal is to have everyone who’s affected come together to review and resolve the issue. The cord can be pulled again once everything is in working order to resume production.
As the name implies, an automatic Andon is triggered by a sensor built into the production line that seeks out anomalies and brings them to the team’s attention. Rather than requiring initial human intervention, an automatic Andon is always vigilant and incorporates manpower as needed for issue resolution.
The way an automatic Andon indicates an issue varies depending on the production line. Systems can be configured to create physical indicators, such as signaling with lights, or through digital messages, including emails or texts to stakeholders and supervisors. By automating the process, production lines are able to free up technician resources.
Colors are used in Andon to designate different operational stages. Typically, these colors follow those of a traffic light, though your business can use any colors it sees fit. Here’s an overview of the colors and how they’re generally used:
When operations are normal and able to proceed as such, the Andon is set to green. This indicates there are no obstacles to production that need to be considered.
When a potential non-critical issue arises, the Andon is usually set to yellow. This tells the team a threat to the production line has been detected and may need attention. This color is used for minor problems and does not require the production line to stop completely in order to review it.
Red is used to communicate to the entire production line that a critical problem or defect has been detected and needs immediate attention. Production stops while technicians gather to review and resolve the problem. If not resolved effectively, yellow-level issues can turn red.
Benefits of Andon
Andon is an element of production communication designed for manufacturing, and it has clear benefits. Issues are detected and addressed as they occur, which helps to create added efficiencies while applying resources as needed. Here are several other key business benefits of Andon:
- Improved information flow. Andon alerts provide a simple, consistent mechanism for communicating line status on a plant floor. Team members are able to clearly identify an issue and its severity, coming together quickly and openly to address and resolve problems.
- Fewer recurring issues. Andon requires teams to resolve issues as they arise and puts a focus on long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes. The result is fewer issues lagging the production line and increased efficiency overall.
- Lower manufacturing costs. Andon helps improve product quality through fewer issues, defects, and damaged products. The process also minimizes disruptions that can be costly when it comes to hitting production goals.
- Increased productivity. Andon gives supervisors transparency and the ability to respond quickly to issues. It also improves overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) by ensuring problems are addressed on demand.
- Reduced downtime. Andon limits the time it takes to get back up and running by spotting smaller issues that can be fixed in real time. This can boost the bottom line and help keep production metrics on track.
- Enhanced flexibility. Andon empowers operators and technicians to take action on their own when problems occur. This engages teams and increases their responsibility for positive production.
How Andon is used in Lean manufacturing
Andon is one of many components of Lean manufacturing, which is a broader production process designed to create efficiencies in task completion. Andon falls into the category of visual management, with controls used to signal statuses and the need for attention (or not) to teams.
Lean manufacturing places emphasis on reducing waste and being as efficient as possible with everything from extra material to excessive motion to time spent waiting. While it may seem counterintuitive to stop a line via an Andon to be more efficient, the goal is to address and resolve issues as they happen so they don’t affect the rest of production and create even more waste moving forward.
Andon indicators are an investment in eliminating waste across the production line. While a makeshift resolution could restore or maintain an action, they’re only temporary and can result in more damage throughout the course of production. Andon applies permanent solutions to the line to ensure repeat errors do not have a trickle-down effect on the rest of production.
Examples of applying Andon
Andon is used by a number of prominent companies to keep processes on track while improving their bottom line.
The approach originated with Toyota, which continues to apply Andon and Lean manufacturing to its production systems. The automaker allows the Andon to alert the entire production line when an issue is detected, lighting up a board with red, yellow, and green lights. Every employee has permission to report an issue via Andon and call for a production stoppage if they suspect a quality control problem.
Amazon is another major company that uses Andon, albeit in a different way. The ecommerce giant applies virtual Andon and Lean processes to its customer service model, using an automated alert system to signal when a customer has an issue with a product or order. Operators can turn on a virtual light to pause or stop an order until an issue is resolved.
Evaluate a tool to incorporate Andon into your production process
Andon is a critical component of Lean manufacturing that enhances communication among team members and creates more efficient production lines. By addressing smaller issues as they come up, manufacturers can reduce product and time waste, helping them achieve their production targets and sales goals.
Reducing waste in production takes more than an Andon. Operators and project managers need tools that can support their evolving processes and create additional efficiencies in their day-to-day operations. One area to look into is project management software that can improve applied processes by supporting communication, tracking, metrics, and more.
Adobe Workfront provides business leaders who use Andon and Lean manufacturing with a platform designed to increase communication and collaboration at scale. From personalized workflows to automated processes, Workfront can streamline production while creating transparencies so you can focus on people rather than processes.
Connect, collaborate, and simplify workflows using Workfront to launch campaigns and deliver personalized experiences at scale. Explore Workfront for yourself and discover how our industry-leading platform can support everything from strategic planning to resource management.