Used in industry for many years, Andon is a visual and audible warning system that provides rapid reporting of defects and the ability to supervise production progress. This system allows production managers to locate incidents and intervene rapidly. Set off by operators, it creates a link from the machine to the organisation. However, in the era of the future factory, do Andon and people mix?
The traditional Andon system: Link between the machine operator and the rest of the company
Andon is a Japanese word that translated means ‘Light to which you should go’. Traditionally, a light box is installed at each workstation. The light box has a button which, when pressed (due to an incident) sets off an alarm: advancement or delay in production, incident, failure. The button sets off a visual alert (the light lights on) and sometimes emits an audible alert. Each machine has a light box that operators activate manually. So that they ‘dare’ use it without feeling ‘guilty’, it is very important that managers fully explain, support and communicate the concepts to their production teams. If people understand the objective of Andon for themselves and for their work, they will be more inclined to use it and therefore improve reactivity to production incidents. The role of the manager is then to define the role of all involved, to analyse the source of problems and resolve them .The manager’s role is to ensure that problems do not occur in the future by working on areas for improvement in collaboration with their teams.
Although traditional Andon is a considerable timesaver for operators and managers and avoids production stoppages and delays, it does not provide for detailed reporting of the incident. And the visual signal at workstations is not optimal: If the supervisor is not in the same area as where the problem occurs, there is little chance of intervening in time.
Andon in the future factory
The digitalisation of factories also impacts on the Andon system. The traditional light box can today be replaced by emails or SMS sent by the operator through mobile terminals. This allows operators to contact supervisors directly and provide more details about the incident encountered. Therefore whether in the factory or in an office, the manager receives alerts directly and can react straightaway. This also allows the manager to reply to the operator that they are aware of the alert, which is not possible with traditional systems. Machines can now also be connected to the Andon system through the Internet of Things (IoT). Thus when there is a fault, the operator and the manager may obtain additional details about the problem from production data.
However, replacing the traditional alert button by alert emails is sometimes counterproductive. Operational teams may lose their standard points of reference and it distorts the highly effective and striking visual signal (the traditional red light) of the Andon system.
Which is why it is appropriate to connect the Andon system to a digital visual management tool. Thus one or more screens are installed in the workshop and in offices, displaying alerts, which allows the supervisor to monitor production even when not in the factory. Screens also allow other operators to be aware of what is going on in the workshop. Thus information is communicated in real time to the production team, allowing them to adapt to issues while retaining the simple visual impact which is the strength of the system.Operators still press a button but the alert is distributed on a large screen with other relevant data. Result: The procedure remains the same, but the information is more complete and better shared at all levels.
With digital systems, Andon becomes a real collaborative tool, to facilitate communication between operators and managers. It could even be used in other business areas such as logistics or back office.