What is an Andon Light?
Long before the time when we could just flip a switch and light a room, the Japanese term Andon, simply meant paper lantern or signal light. Today, Lean manufacturers everywhere use Andon systems as a visual management tool to quickly alert those who need to maintain or oversee a plant floor. The system alerts them when assistance is needed and allows an operator to shut the production process down if a quality issue arises.
In a Lean manufacturing plant, Andon could refer to any visual display that relays information from the plant floor to a supervisor or anyone for that matter, within sight. The most common form of this is an Andon light which is typically a stacked, three light setup. The colors and meanings are generally as follows:
- Green- Operation is normal and in good running condition.
- Yellow- Attention or help is needed.
- Red- Stop!
Most Andon light towers are fairly easy to set up and can be mounted just about anywhere with the right mounting brackets (typically included with purchase). They can be set up one of two ways. The first is the most handy, which is automatic. Setting up your Andon lights to automatically respond when a machine triggers it is especially helpful when a machine is running without an operator. The second way to set up you Andon lights would be manual, where the actual operator would have to signal the light change when needed. This could be done with a pull cord, trigger, switch, or button, set up next to the operator’s workstation.
Benefits of using Andon systems in your facility:
- Provides real-time communication in the most efficient manner to provide instant awareness to problems as they occur.
- Easy to use, requiring little training to be effective.
- Promotes a culture that values quality and safety.
- Increases accountability of operators and those in charge of the plant floor to ensure production quality is always high.
- Decreases down time because supervisors are able to quickly identify and fix malfunctions or issues with machines.
The Andon Board
An Andon board is a little more elaborate and detailed than the standard Andon light set up, but essentially provides the same purpose. The boards can have several indicators on them and are generally centrally located to be as visually effective as possible. You typically find them in large factories with several production lines, allowing anyone to look up and see how operations are running and the current status.
Keys to the Andon board:
- Keep the design simple and easy to read.
- Lights should be clear and easy to understand.
- Make sure it’s in a clearly visible location.
- It must provide details as to where the problem occurred.
- It must display whether or not the problem has been solved.
- Keep in working order and perform maintenance as needed!
The big picture
Regardless of the type of Andon you use, the principle is the same. Your showing your commitment to one of the most proven means of efficient communication, a facility can have in place. They not only help eliminate multiple forms of waste, but they also give a sense of empowerment to the operators that use them. For example: handing an operator the power to stop a line and call for assistance to address an issue, may be something they may have never experienced before. This could be a huge motivator in promoting employee engagement in the production process.
It’s important to remember that Andon is not a method to solve your problems. It’s a tool, that if used correctly, will tell you when something is wrong and put the power in your hands to investigate the problem, first hand. The success of your Andon system is extremely dependent on the consistency in which it is used and responded to. If operators are signaling for help and no help comes, or a light is burned out, chances are that operator will start to use the system less and less, compiling onto the original issue they may of had.
It’s also a significant part of your visual workplace that Lean organizations and others, have had relied on heavily to keep their organizations working at a high rate of efficiency and productivity.
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