Tag Archives: Andon

The Lean Help Loop

The Lean Help Loop
The Lean Help Loop

When you’re improving a process, it’s important to make sure a help loop is in place. The help loop ensures that when employees encounter a problem they can’t fix themselves, someone will come and help. Without a help loop, the improvement will not be sustained.

Your most important processes should have both a Standard and a Visual Control. Establish a Standard so that it’s easy to see when the actual outcome doesn’t equal the expected outcome. Then create a Visual Control that allows everyone to easily know if the process is working properly (called an Andon). It  needs to be updated only as often as management is willing to both check it and take action if something is wrong. The Visual Control isn’t just for information. If actual is not equal to standard, management must not only respond, they also have to respond in a positive and timely manner. At this point, supervisors work through the problem with their employees, using the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) model, to develop countermeasures that will fix the problem, bringing the process back to Standard.

Calumet Electronics Tour

Recently, Todd Brassard, Vice President/COO of Calumet Electronics, spent an afternoon giving our group a tour of their operations in Calumet, MI. During this tour, we were able to see the complex process (over 40 steps!) that it takes to produce a circuit board. In their manufacturing operations, there were several examples of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma in practice. I’ll talk about a few examples that we saw during our tour.

  • Many pieces of equipment had a three-color light (green, yellow, or red), that indicated the status of the machine, an example of andon.
  • Machines that drilled holes into the circuit boards automatically picked the necessary drill bit needed for the particular hole size it needed to drill, and tested the bit prior to drilling any holes into the circuit board. If a bit is damaged, then the red light on the machine comes on (andon!) so that a worker can come to the machine to inspect the bit and address the issue.
  • Workers that inspect the quality of each of the circuit boards worked in a left-to-right pattern in their work area to ensure that untested circuit boards don’t get mixed in with circuit boards that have either passed or failed the quality inspection (error proofing); only the boards that had passed the inspection made it into the stack on the far right of their work area. These workers also test the circuit boards in small batches of 25 that their computer confirms the count of; this ensures that the whole stack of 25 has been inspected before the next batch can be tested. The computer also says, in clear and large text, “Pass” in green or “Fail” in red (a visual control) when telling the worker the results of the inspection.
  • Todd also noted that for many of their process, they are tracking Cpk, which is the actualized process capability. As a rule of thumb, a Cpk of at least 1.33 indicates a capable process.
  • At the end of the tour, Todd showed our group some awesome data collection and metrics that they’ve begun keeping to track the “health” of their business. To the “data geeks” among us, this was pretty neat!

Andon – Not Just Pulling a Cord

One of the pillars of lean thinking is Jidoka.  Lean Lexicon defines Jidoka as “Providing machines and operators the ability to detect when an abnormal condition has occurred and immediately stop work.  This enable operations to build in quality at each process and to separate men and machines for more efficient work.”  Within Jidoka, andon is the visual management tool used as the signal to call for help and stop production when that abnormal condition is recognized.

Some of the requirements for this type of visual management include

  • Standardization – the process must have a standard so that the operator or machine knows when an abnormal condition exists.
  • Easy to understand – the signal must be easy to understand without too much training.  If it gets to complicated people are spending more time figuring out what the signal means than improving quality.
  • Commonly used – the system must be commonly used within a work group.  If only a few people in the group are using it, it will not be effective.
  • Standard responses – when the signal is indicated those responsible for correcting the issue must know how to respond to avoid confusion and reduce downtime and waste.

I tend to think of andon as the worker on a factory line pulling a cord to stop production, but it can also be an automated system or in an office setting.  As I was preparing a teachback on andon for a department report out the office printer started beeping and blinking.  I immediately got up, glanced at the screen and grabbed a new ream of paper to put in.  When I got back to my desk it hit me that this was an example of andon.  The printer encountered an abnormal condition (out of paper), stopped production (my print job was on hold), and indicated the problem through the flashing light and beeping.  On the screen is exactly what the problem is and the steps you would need to take to correct it.

Another example of an automatic andon is the low fuel light on your vehicle.  The light is the indicator and you, as the operator, know you should go to the gas station and fill up the tank to correct it.  There are more examples of andon around us than my originally narrow view of them thought!