Much like the “check engine” light in a car, Andon in Lean manufacturing is a system designed to alert operators and managers of problems in real time so that corrective measures can be taken immediately. It originates from the Jidoka methodology used in the Toyota Production System, which empowered operators to recognize issues and take the initiative to stop work without waiting for management to make the decision.

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5 Lean Manufacturing Principles

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One way to “pull the Andon Cord” on a digital Kanban board is to block a card in its lane.
One way to “pull the Andon Cord” on a digital Kanban board is to block a card in its lane.

Originally, the operator would pull the Andon Cord, which was a rope located above the line, but Andon can take many forms. It can be activated by an operator pulling a cord or pushing a button, or it can be automatically activated by equipment when a problem is detected.

Whether used because of part shortage, equipment malfunction, or a safety concern, the point of Andon in Lean manufacturing is to stop work so that the team can gather together, perform a real-time root cause analysis, and quickly apply a solution. Once the problem is resolved and work continues, the occurrence is logged as part of a continuous improvement system.

How to Use Andon in Lean Manufacturing

There are many ways to use the Andon system in Lean manufacturing and in several other industries. Amazon uses it as part of their Customer Service process.

Regardless of where it’s being used, the only way Andon works is if you truly empower operators to use it. This means giving operators not only the permission, but the obligation to stop the line when issues arise. Employees, especially in manufacturing, are hesitant to stop the line because of the cost of downtime or for fear of being wrong.

To most people, it seems counterproductive to completely stop the line. Some will try to resolve the symptom and deal with the root cause later.

The Andon system in Lean manufacturing takes the position that stopping work in the moment will save the organization from major and costly issues in the future.

This fits nicely with the Lean principle of “Respect for People.” If an operator doesn’t feel trusted enough in the environment to stop the line based on their own judgment, huge problems could occur later by not resolving the issue.

The Andon system in Lean manufacturing also requires a plan for resolving the issue. Who will be the team that gathers to perform the root cause analysis and apply the solution?

Given that this can occur at any moment, knowing the players ahead of time will increase the speed of resolution. If operators are left waiting around after pulling the Andon cord, they will be less likely to pull it in the future because the cost will seemingly outweigh the benefit.

Benefits of Andon in Lean Manufacturing

Using the Andon system in Lean manufacturing will yield many benefits both in the short and long term. In the short-term, it provides:

  • Visibility and transparency in the production process
  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Decreased waste

Long term benefits include:

  • Reduced costs and downtime
  • Enhanced value to the customer because of better quality products
  • Responsible operators who are accountable for the line running as efficiently and effectively as possible, empowering them to act when problems arise, rather than waiting for management
  • Long term improvements to production process

Like most principles in Lean manufacturing, the Andon cord itself doesn’t add value. Likewise, if action isn’t taken immediately when the system is alerted, it defeats the purpose and can actually detract from the value you are targeting.