In the early 1990s, Japan’s Toyota Production Systems was innovating several ways to build better cars. The company developed a system called “Jidoka.” Jidoka primarily encompasses the concept of “lean manufacturing systems.” One principle of Jidoka was that all workers could be empowered on an assembly line to immediately stop all work if he or she spots a problem.
To this end, Toyota introduced something called an Andon cord. It was just an ordinary rope. However, this length of cord had a particular purpose. Any worker could pull the line at any time to stop production. The team leader would then immediately ask the worker why the Andon cord was pulled. The result was that workers could solve the problem together as a team.
This seemingly simple idea revolutionized car production in Japan. A similar practice was picked up by other car companies, as did many large manufacturing firms that relied on mass-producing a product or processing a service.
A significant evolution of the Andon cord concept is the Andon board. Andon, by the way, is taken from the Japanese word for “paper lantern.” An Andon board is a lighted display screen. They feature large, easy to see and read categories that indicate the status of specific processes, such as “running” or “need material” or “jammed.”
Like the Andon cord, any worker can punch a button on an Andon board, which may stop all production if they detect a problem.
The concept of an Andon board is not limited to factory assembly line situations. For example, consider the dashboard of a car. It’s basically a status board showing an array of functions indicating how well everything is performing. If a red light starts blinking, indicating that the fuel tank is almost empty, that is a warning sign that will prevent further trouble for the driver.
Andon board’s in large-scale manufacturing facilities derive similar benefits by providing this highly visible, easy to read information that can indicate status, prevent future problems, and more. Andon boards have continued to evolve is use, function and complexity since the early 1990s. Two general types of Andon boards exist today. They are:
- Operator Andons – Triggered by human workers on an assembly line. Some still use cords, but others operate via static buttons or even voice command.
- Machine Andons – They are automatically operated by mechanical systems to recognize problems and take action when issues crop up. AI (artificial intelligence) programs are increasingly being applied to Machine Andons.
Over the years, color-coded meanings have become standardized for Andon boards. They are:
- Green – All systems are running smoothly.
- Yellow – Warns of a pending problem requiring a worker to take appropriate action.
- Red – Production halted to solve significant problems.
- White – Production run complete.
- Blue – Indicates a defective unit. It may not stop production but will keep count of flawed units.
Andon board has become an essential tool in creating lean and efficient production lines and processes in large-scale manufacturing facilities. By allowing any worker to instantly address the problem or react to or anticipate pending needs, everything can run smoothly with fewer stoppages and significant problems. Glitches can be handled before they lead to major shut-downs and/or before they turn into significant difficulties. They do this by:
- Providing visibility.
- Increasing productivity.
- Bolstering accountability.
- Reducing downtime.
- Fostering efficiency.
As hinted at earlier, advanced technologies are making Andon board more powerful and useful than ever. In addition to using AI to handle problems once required by human attention, Andon boards can be integrated with computerized maintenance management systems and manufacturing execution systems.
Furthermore, Andon board can be leveraged to collect “big data.” The analysis of data provides valuable insights into an array of manufacturing processes. The usefulness of this information is of incalculable value to plant managers and processing engineers.