Andon is a Japanese term for the traditional paper lantern or signal light. In lean, we use it as a visual management system to quickly allow anyone to know the status of a line or operation.

The most common type of Andon system is the three-light tower. Three colored lights (red, yellow, and green) are mounted on a pole by a work station with a switch to allow the operator to quickly change the status if anything goes wrong. The typical Andon light color-coding schema is red = stop and green = go (or running). Yellow may stand for not running at rate, ’I need help’, or something similar.

These andon lights can also be mounted to machines or equipment and automatically change color based on a signal from the machine. These are especially handy when the machines are running with no operator.

A smaller take-off on this method is to use a flag. If the flag is raised when someone needs help it can signal things like: low on parts, need the material handler or other types of information. The flags can be color-coded similarly to the tower lights or set for specific jobs or tasks. A common version of the flag system can be seen in doctors’ offices or clinics. Outside the examination room color-coded flags signal the staff information about the patient or what is needed next.

Another more complex version of the Andon light is the Andon board. This is where several indicators are mounted on the same board to centrally locate the visual system. These are common in lean factories that have multiple production lines. This allows anyone to look at a glance how the plant is running and its current status.

A pull cord is another style of andon. If an operator is having difficulties or wants to signal management that there is a problem, they pull the andon cord. This is just like pulling the cord on a city bus to signal to the driver that you want to get off at the next stop or in a hospital room where there is a cord to pull if you need the nurse.

Even audible signals can be thought of as a type of andon. An alarm, bell or buzzer gets your attention when something is wrong or is trying to warn you about a situation. In the old days, at department stores the chimes you heard overhead were actually signals to floor managers to contact the office. The number of chimes, the sequence or sound was designated to different managers. This way a manager could be notified without disturbing the customers with an annoying announcement. In some lean facilities they even use the pace or rhythm of the sound to indicate if there is a problem.

The advantages of using andon systems are many. To be sure, they allow a supervisor or team lead to quickly spot a problem before it escalates. For example, if a supervisor wants to know the status of six different work cells in an area, she would have to walk to each one and look or ask an operator the status. Unfortunately, while the supervisor is in the back area trying to find out what is going on, a work cell in the front has a malfunction and the supervisor doesn’t even know about it. By installing andon lights at each of the work cells, the supervisor can visually see that status and proceed to the work cell that needs assistance. Andon lights are a low cost solution versus people waiting or not knowing the current status if work.

Today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we celebrate the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We also commemorate the timeless values he taught us through not only his words but more importantly his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that defined his revolutionary spirit.

Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.  We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.

Incidentally many of Dr. King’s common themes are similar to those found in our work in Lean – Freedom, Equality, and Service: 

Freedom.  By implementing Lean we are actually creating new-found freedoms for individual employees all the way to whole systems.  When performing a 5S or Kaizen event it is imperative that we help team members understand that we are there to make their jobs better!  By controlling any or all of the Eight Wastes we are freeing up new resources including time, space, and financial opportunities. This leads to increased value for end-use customers which leads to better financial and non-financial performance. 

Equality.  Toyota first formally published its “respect for people” principle in a 2001 internal document.  Respect for People means that we respect others and make every effort to understand one other and value all of their input. We believe that everyone has something to contribute whether it’s the building janitor who keeps the floors clean and safe to the CFO who is responsible for the financial well-being of the company.  We are all equals and all in this together.  Everyone is charged with taking personal responsibility and a commitment to do their best and build mutual trust which will maximize performance. 

Service.  It was King who said, “Everybody can be great because everyone can serve.”  As Lean practitioners we are also servants. Through the visionary thoughts, ideals and knowledge we impart to our colleagues and clients we aid them in leading more efficient, effective work environments which in time can lead to a better world for all of us.

So in the spirit of today’s Holiday let us reflect and give thanks for the work we have the privilege of doing each and every day.

Jennifer Molski, Customer Care – 5S Supply

P.S. As a part of 5S Supply’s commitment to service and training we are offering a FREE webinar “Introduction to Lean” this Wednesday, January 19, 2011. We hope you will join us.

Giving Back

January 10, 2011

At 5S Supply we believe strongly in giving back and investing in our local community.  We were a proud Sponsor of the First Annual Community Christmas Tree Recycling Program held the first two weekends in January in Olympia Fields, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago located near 5S Supply’s Headquarters in Frankfort.  This event was organized by our very own Customer Care Manager, Jennifer Molski.  Jennifer moved to the community about a year and a half ago and after last Christmas was surprised to see so many Christmas Trees at the curb on their way to landfill and vital nutrients being wasted. 

She knew there had to be a better way and saw this as great opportunity to make a difference!  She approached local government municipalities to see if they could help create a recycling program.  When the municipalities said they couldn’t help because staff time and limited budgets, Jennifer decided to take matters into her own hands.  She gathered together several organizations in the community who were already invested in environmental issues including the Green Team from the local elementary school and Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center.  Irons Oaks agreed to be the drop off point for the trees and would mulch the trees and use them on their paths and trails.  Jennifer invited local businesses, organizations and individuals to serve as Sponsors and Partners and created an ad-campaign to help spread the word of this recycling opportunity as well as provide education about the benefits of a real Christmas Tree. 

Jennifer shared that “by working for 5S Supply the past couple years I have become a much better steward of our environment and I am grateful to work in such an enriching workplace.  We apply Lean is Green thinking, practice waste reduction and always seek out unique ways to Reduce, Reduce and Recycle.”   

The initial response from the community was very positive.  A simple, free and most importantly a “feel good” opportunity was created for residents of the greater South Chicagoland Area.  We are proud to announce that 300 trees were collected!

Several of 5S Supply’s Team members volunteered at the event including Jean Lareau and Marcia Moderacki from Accounting.  5S’s own Tony Manos was on hand and spent most of his time tending to the fire to keep all volunteers warm and assisting donors with removing trees from their cars.  Tony remarked, “It was such an honor to be a part of this first annual event.  I am very proud of Jennifer and the win-win opportunity she created…her innovative thinking and creativity that serves our 5S Team so well led to the creation of this program and we wish her continued success in the future.”

Remeber – Lean is Green!