The definitive guide to modern Lean Manufacturing Andon systems in 2022

This is a complete guide to Andon systems in 2021. In this new guide you’ll learn how modern Andon systems work and why you should invest in digital workflows for ANDON.

This article is a comprehensive overview about modern Andon systems. Topics include:

  • What is Andon?
  • Shortcomings of existing Andon systems
  • How modern Andon systems work
  • Benefits of modern Andon systems
  • How to configure a modern Andon system (with example!)

Let’s get started.

What is Andon?

In Lean Manufacturing, the term Andon refers to a system that notifies employees in case of disruptions in production processes. This can include quality issues, machine interruptions, missing material or any other processing problem. Andon alert are usually issued manually by operators pulling a so called Andon cord or by pushing an Andon button. Andony systems can connected directly to machines or equipment and can then be activated automatically by the machines itself. 

The target of Andon systems is to pause production when a defect is found and call for assistance to take corrective actions. Most Andon systems use audio alarms, text and display messages on Andon boards, very often stack lights are used to visually indicate status changes. Common reasons to trigger Andons are missing parts, malfunctions of tools, identified defects, scrap or other quality issues and potential safety problems.

Typical applications for Andon include:

  • Monitoring of machine uptimes and downtimes for overall equipment effectiveness analysis
  • Machine interruptions indication and machine fault management
  • Material request at assembly stations
  • Maintenance and support call 

Shortcomings of traditional Andon systems

Andon alarms are typically distributed to operators using Andon boards and additional visual and audio notifications such as horns and alarm bells.

This type of setup can be really stressful for operators and has a wide range of process inefficiencies. Traditional Andon systems are not anymore able to cope with today’s demand for highly effective notification of shop-floor workers.

Typical issues found in legacy ANDON systems

  • unclear problem indication because of issues being summarised by a few buttons only (e.g. RED button can mean 5 different things)
  • limited indication of severity (e.g. status only red, amber, green)
  • limited indication of elapsed time after first alarm
  • alarms go unnoticed and are not being taken care of by service staff
  • high stress level of workers because of constant alarms
  • movement waste (MUDA) because two or more technicians run after the same issue from different locations after noticing the alarm
  • movement waste (MUDA) of employees due to missing details regarding the root causes of an issue (e.g. service technicians need to go back to bring essential spareparts and tools)

Root causes include:

  • Conflict of responsibility: who should take care of the issue
  • Alarm fatigue: employees get used to alarms and stop noticing the audio signal after some time
  • Poor alarm mechanism that cannot be seen/heard in all locations
  • No escalation mechanism: key personnel is busy with other tasks and nobody takes ownership
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Modern Digital Andon systems

To overcome the shortcomings of traditional cord or light-based Andon systems, modern software-based Andon systems have been developed and can be deployed as wireless Andon systems.

Typically, such modern Andon systems include advanced Andon features such as:

1. Configuration of Andon alarms in IT systems

  • Dynamic alarms: alarm prioritization, dynamic filtering (alarm temporarily surpressed when meeting certain criteria), escalation procedures
  • Rule-based alarms: work processes determine which alarms are necessary and which are not
  • Role-based alarms: show alarms only to configurable roles, e.g. people with certain competence levels

2. Management of Alarms

  • Alarm response manuals for Operator assistance
  • Multiple and interoperable notification channels
  • Smart Notifications on mobile devices, e.g. Smartphones, Smartwatches
  • Tracking of metadata: time tracking, location tracking

3. Alarm & event analysis

  • Master alarm databases 
  • Benchmarking, Analytics and KPI reporting on dashboards

Benefits of modern Digital Andon systems

Shorter response times
With Dynamic alarms, tasks can be assigned to the right person at the right time based on  configurable business rules. For example, an Andon system such as WORKERBASE allows to dynamically schedule tasks based on competencies, e.g. service technician get a notification on their smartwatch for all “Malfunction machine” Andon calls, while Andon calls related to “Missing parts” can directly be routed to the smartphone of a logistic worker. This skill-based distribution increases response times (a few seconds compared to minutes using legacy ANDON systems).

Clear and consistent reporting channels

With modern ANDON reporting tools such as tablet applications, Andon messages can be extended with all kinds of metadata. A system such as WORKERBASE is fully customisable to meet any situation and local circumstances with freely definable service activities. Virtual buttons on tablet enable issue reporting with much better granularity than push buttons or similar systems. This allows targeted messages with all relevant metadata, e.g. “Missing material”, “Amount: 20”, “Type: Irregular shafts”, “Charge: 2344”. 

No more multiple people going after the same issue
With workload balancing, workload between service staff is automatically distributed and optimized by the system. Notifications can are sent to personal devices of relevant people. For example, with WORKERBASE Alarms can be issued onto personal mobile devices such as Smartwatches, Smartphones and Tablets and can also be sent by Email, SMS or Phone call with unlimited escalation levels and options.

Fully integrated

Compared to traditional Andon cord systems, modern IT-based Andon systems work wirelessly and integrate with existing machines and systems (ERP, MES and others). This enables context-aware user interfaces which self configure to the worker’s context and situation.

Realtime tracking of status and work in progress

As modern Andon systems collect a range of different data and metadata, powerful analytics and visualization of event occurrences can be applied. Examples include time to react, time to repair, repeat issues, downtime or uptime.

Example: How to configure an Industry 4.0 Andon system

The setup and configuration of a modern Andon system such e.g. WORKERBASE can usually be done in a very short time. The following steps are typical implementation steps.

1. Setup of issue types

Cloud-based Andon system can be configured by using a web browser. The configuration of freely definable user interface elements allow custom “virtual buttons” for each issue type. Users can be requested to submit pictures, enter data or select predefined items from a hierarchy of lists.

2. Configure rules for dynamic Andon issue handling

By utilizing easy to configure business rules, the business logic of Andon calls can be customized. For example, with WORKERBASE, pre-configured default rules can be modified or a set of custom rules with any kind of escalation pattern can be created. Issues are then handled by user roles and skill levels and the system takes care of assigning the right people to the tasks when they occur. 

3. Mount devices to the workplace

Modern Andon systems typically utilize of-the-shelf low-cost hardware such as Android or iOS tablets. By mounting tablet devices at the production workplaces, employees are empowered to issue any kind of Andon call. 

4. Equip your employees with mobile devices

To allow fully personalized Andon calls, your employees need to have access to individual  mobile devices such as Smartphones or Smartwatches. By using tablets as Andon clients, team calls can be implemented.

For more examples on how to improve lean manufacturing with digital tools, please read our guide to lean digital.

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