Last Updated on 9 September 2023
Andon is a alert used in Lean that will let you know if there are any issues in the system, and allow for a quick method of stopping production from the issue. It provides instant feedback that there is anything wrong that needs investigating.
The aim is to speed up the notification of issues so that they will have less of an impact on your organization.
They usually use the red / yellow / green traffic light system:
- Green: All is working smoothly
- Yellow: There are issues that need investigating
- Red: They system has failed and needs to stop.
The red light will often stop production, or at least make an audible or other very obvious signal that will alert everyone instantly to the red alert. The yellow light should also alert your engineers to come and look at the issue, although they will know it is only a yellow and so will be free to finish their current task if it is vital.
You aren’t obligated to use this system; whatever lights best alert you to the issues can be used. You may just use a single light for each issue or area, and diagnose from that. You can even have more lights, such as to request more materials or other common notifications.
This is one of the key parts of Jidoka, also known as autonomation or ‘automation with a human touch’. As this allows you to largely automate the production systems, relying on the andon system to inform them of any issues. In Jidoka, a ‘red’ alert will often be programmed to automatically stop production.
Andon means literally ‘sign’ or ‘signal’.
The idea is that if you leave a problem on the line and continue production, you can get huge issues. These quality issues will cause problems with rework and loss of customer goodwill, and so it is best to just stop production and fix it. This will lead to higher quality, even though that will lower production levels.
It is important when there’s an issue that staff can stop production. If when inspecting a yellow ‘warning’ system they find an issue affecting quality, they can pull the andon cord. This will stop production, allowing employees to fix the issue before the problem causes any more damage to the products or machinery.
In less automated systems, the andon cord is also there for the employee to quickly stop the production after a quick inspection of a ‘red’ alert. You usually don’t just have one for the whole operation, as you want it accessible. It is common to have one for each area, or even one per operator so that they can be activated quickly.
It should also have a method of ‘resetting’ when everything is fixed and production can resume. This can be e.g. a ‘double pull’ of the cord or a reset switch.
It is now usually more common to have two cords; one red that stops production, and one yellow that flags to your engineers that there’s something that needs investigating. Don’t make the system too complicated as these sometimes need to be activated in an emergency.
Whist traditionally being an actual Andon cord (which still can be used), you are not actually restricted to using a cord. It is just as common now to see buttons, switches or computerized methods for flagging issues.
The lights for the andon are usually arranged on an ‘andon board’. These have the the alerts often lights or displays that show you what the issues are.
It is important that the andon board can be viewed from a distance, so it should be big and clear enough to be seen from far away. You need to place it in a part of the workplace with good visibility, so that whoever needs to see it can monitor it easily.
Advantages of Andon
- Allows quick correction of problems that would otherwise go on to cause a large amount of quality issues.
- Staff can easily get help to cope with production or quality issues.
- Frees up staff to do other activities whilst production is running rather than constantly monitoring the system, including proactive fixes to avoid future issues.
- Allows you to implement Jidoka, which has huge efficiency, quality and output volume improvements.
- Automated issue detection systems can notice issues that a human could miss, such as an empty box being processed would be picked up by a weight check but a human can’t see into the box.
- It can be implemented to a basic level (e.g. andon cord and traffic light system) relatively cheaply.
- Speeds up the notification of engineers and other necessary staff so that issues can be resolved quicker.
The main disadvantage is that this is only an alerting system; it can’t do anything to remove errors. For that we need a different system, which is usually a combination of manual fixes and Poka Yoke.
There is also the danger that if you use Andon to remove staff from the processes, there could be an overreliance on the Andon system. If either the Andon system misses an issue or staff don’t notice the alert on a timely basis, the issue could go on for longer than if the process was actively ‘manned’.
If you use Andon to help remove staff from the system, you can lose human intelligence and creativity, harming the overall system.
When do you use Andon?
Andon is a useful system to use for any production system. You don’t even need to be in manufacturing. If you have a system that consistently turns out products, especially in a relatively automated way you can use Andon.
It is especially useful in automation, to help use the Lean system of Jidoka.
How do you implement Andon in your workplace?
Choose which areas are going to be covered
You don’t need to implement on everything in your organization. It could just be key processes, or those that you intend to automate with Jidoka. Choose which sections are going to be covered by the Andon system. A traditional view is to make it cover all of your production system, although you could even spread this to support staff, such as for notifying IT of system errors.
Split your operations into process steps
You will frequently have different lights on your Andon board for different parts of the process, so that you can easily pinpoint the issue. To do this, you need to split your Andon board in to logical sections responding to the process steps. If you have a large operation, you could even have more than one Andon board for the different sections of your business.
Categorize your issues into ‘yellow’ and ‘red’
If you use the traffic light system, your issues will either be flagged a ‘yellow’ for intermediate issue and ‘red’ for urgent, stop production type issue. Whether this flag is to be made by the person pulling the andon cord or automatically using Jidoka, you will need clear rules.
These should be clearly categorized, so that issues can be quickly identified.
Design your Andon board
Your board needs to be big enough for everyone to see, located in a visible location and laid out logically so that your staff can instantly locate the source of the issue. You want the signals to be easy to understand, so that somebody guessing what the board means should intuitively get it correct.
Decide on your escalation procedure
Staff will need to know what to do with the issue when they find it. You need clear rules on what to do when either a yellow or red alert is given. This includes who needs to be notified, how they will be notified, who is responsible for fixing it and how urgently they need to move on from their current task. You don’t want a half your workforce to be standing around confused when the alert goes off, and you don’t want the only person who ran restart the system to be on holiday.
Create your system
You obviously need to create your system before you can use it. Create your Andon board and put it in place. If possible, automate the notifications, so that the system itself can raise an alert when something goes wrong.
Empower your staff to pull the Andon cord
Staff often won’t be used to having the power to stop all production. You need to choose which staff are allowed to do this (often it’s all staff), and make sure they are prepared to do it. They should also know under what circumstances to use the cord; this will both stop them from pulling it unnecessarily but also give them the confidence to use it when it is useful.
Write your documentation and training
Staff will often know how to operate the Andon system from when it is implemented, but they will forget over time, and new staff will join the system. Make sure that the SOPs and other documentation are reflective of the new system, and staff are kept up to date on the procedures.
Trial your Andon system
You won’t know if your new system is working without running it. A good point of Andon is that it can be run alongside your current operations, so you can trial it without changing other aspects of your procedures. This will let you see if it is working correctly without having to worry about if something goes wrong, but you can fix anything not working to how you would like.