In Lean, andon refers to a signal used to call for help when an abnormal condition is recognized, or that some sort of action is required. The most common andon lights you will see are those used to request assistance on an assembly line. In the office, an andon will announce that a piece of equipment, like a fax machine, is having problems.
Andon comes from an old Japanese word for paper lantern. An everyday example of an andon is the warning light on your car’s dashboard that indicates when the gas tank is getting close to empty.
Andons are very powerful tools if they are used correctly. The best andons are visible from at least ten feet away and they are accompanied by a clear reaction plan.
Andons need to do more than just point to a problem. An andon must go hand in hand with a plan for action. In the example of the car, the warning light tells you not only what the problem is, but you know exactly what you need to do to fix it (fill up at a gas station sooner rather than later.)
In practice, you might see the following scenario take place:
Just remember a few things when using andons. First, there may be a reverse ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ condition. What happens if a worker pulls the andon cord to signal a need for help, and nobody ever comes to the rescue? The employee stops wasting his time pulling that andon cord! And if the cord is not pulled, the leadership team misses out on the opportunity to permanently fix the problem. Plus, the lack of early warning means that there will likely be more frequent line stops.
Also remember that you can build your standard work with problem resolution in mind. Let’s say that there is a work station with an easy task and a more difficult task that is prone to problems. Obviously, you want to work towards eliminating the problems, but until then, mitigate your risk. Do the harder task first. If you fall behind, you can call for help, and have the lead/supervisor/floater do the easy task and buy the operator a few more minutes. If the tough task was last on the standard work combination sheet, there would be very little the helper could do other than cheer you on.
Finally, make sure you track the andon calls, and figure out how to prevent problems in the future.
As a side note, workers generally should not have time included in their standard work to address problems. You are better off having a floater who can cover the line than adding buffer time to the standard work. Embedding extra time hides the problem in a hidden factory and it never gets the attention it deserves.
Some common andon configurations include:
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