If you clicked on my intentionally attention grabbing headline (or what might be a parody of those)… no, Toyota isn't killing their famed and much-copied Andon process.
Toyota is just changing the mechanics of the Andon system – or perhaps improving it… in the spirit of Kaizen, or continuous improvement.
If you'd like more background on Andon cords and that process, see a blog post (and a video) I about my trip to Toyota and Japan (and click here for info on going to Japan with me in November).
In this Automotive News video, they report that Toyota is changing the physical setup of the Andon cord… going from hanging cord to waist-high yellow call buttons that will be within “easy reach of workers” in their stations.
Here's what the old cords look like, from their video (the worker is reaching up to pull a cord, which I've marked with the green arrows):
I'm guessing the intent and the response is the same with a button, compared to a cord. It sounds like they're just changing the physical mechanism for speaking up and flagging a problem.
I'm sure the new buttons will be designed to be easy to press or hit, since Toyota encourages people to call out problems.
When you're in a Toyota plant (including San Antonio, where I live), you see workers pulling the cords fairly frequently. And, when they do, a team leader is there within seconds.
You see this team leader response in the Automotive News video (the team leader is in the hat and the worker, at the car, pulled the cord just a few seconds earlier).
When I've taken healthcare students to the plant, they are impressed with the concept of the andon cord system, including:
- Workers are encouraged to speak up (by pulling the cord) when they even suspect a problem
- Somebody comes to help right away
- The team leader is helping, not yelling
- The line stops if the problem can't be resolved
The healthcare visitors (and I) ask about how wonderful that type of process would be in healthcare. It's not about the cord, it's about the process (ala the Patient Safety Alert systems at places like Virginia Mason Medical Center and in Saskatchewan). The hospitals don't have physical cords hanging over beds and operating tables. Andon is a process and a management system, not a cord.
Back to Toyota… it sounds like they did a small test of change by installing these buttons last year at flagship plant in Toyota City, reports Automotive News. The goals were to remove overhead clutter and to “create a more comfortable and safer work environment.”
Toyota plans on rolling out the new andon cord buttons to other plants in the future.
It's good to see Toyota continually improving and not being stuck in their ways. An Andon cord doesn't have to be a cord.
Here is the full video that Automotive News shows, with Steve St. Angelo and Gary Convis of Toyota (at the time) explaining how this works and, more importantly, the philosophy behind it (the video is no longer available). :-(
That philosophy should be the same with buttons.
Updated: Here is a longer print story from Automotive News with a few more details:
Why do they want to avoid the overhead clutter?
Toyota's manufacturing gurus want to cut the clutter over the workspace, creating a sort-of blue sky, for a couple reasons. First, it creates a less oppressive, more comfortable, open-air work environment. Second, there are safety and efficiency benefits because there is less overhead to snag long, cumbersome components or tools.
That makes sense. Another added detail is that the buttons are WIRELESS:
Moreover, the wireless buttons can be added to existing plants, which can reconfigure old lines and design new ones without worrying about where and how to string the old cord.
The buttons are expected to be added to other plants, though the shift may be slow. They are already used at select overseas subsidiary plants in China, Thailand and Indonesia.
It goes to show — it's not the cord or a button that matters… it's the process and the management system that matters.
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