The End of the Traditional Andon?

Dec. 13, 2010
Dont overlook new means of communication, like Twitter, on the plant floor.

Youre familiar with the term andon as its used on the manufacturing floor. Its a process that lets trouble-shooters -- be they management, engineers or some other group -- know in a glance that a problem has occurred on the production line that needs immediate attention. Typically, an andon includes display lights that illuminate when a production operator presses a button or pulls a cord along the production line after observing a problem. Machinery can prompt the andon as well. Ultimately, production on that line typically comes to a halt until the issue is addressed, keeping the amount of bad output to a minimum.

The traditional andon may not be the best means of communicating problems, given the make up of todays factories, suggests Fred Langer, managing director of Getzler Henrich & Associates. Langer leads the management and financial consulting firms LeanSigma-Process Improvement practice.

The factory make up of which Langer speaks is one of fewer supervisors overseeing much larger production areas. As a result, the supervisor may not even see an andon light illuminate if that light is attached to a piece of equipment far removed from the supervisors location. At the very least, reaction time and corrective actions are delayed. And even if the andon light is a display board that provides visibility to a wider audience, the amount of information delivered is minimal. While a red light on the display board may tell the supervisor theres a problem, it doesnt say much else, Langer explains. The goal is to get the right people to the right place to deal with the issue, Langer says.

Thats where a social media tool like Twitter comes in. Something like Twitter is a good way to communicate whats happening on the plant floor, says Langer.At a glance, specific messages are reported from stations experiencing a problem to strategically placed display monitors in the plant. Such messages, he notes, can contain more information than a simple light. As a result the operator can better communicate whether the required help relates to maintenance, material handling or some other issue.

Twitter also presents sense of urgency that is missing in an e-mail transmission, Langer says.

Social media isnt the answer to everything, Langer is quick to assert. However, it is another thing in our toolbox.

The managing director says that setting up a Twitter account may also be a good means of keeping customers abreast of what is happening with their accounts. And YouTube presents a great medium for storing plant-floor training videos without incurring a lot of cost, time and overhead.

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