Build quality into a process rather than inspecting for quality at the end of the process.

 Are you wondering what is Jidoka and what is Andon?

Every industry has a vocabulary—a set of words that have significance for that industry and are understood by people working in that industry. Lean manufacturing is no exception. In Lean, many of the terms used internationally originated in Japan. Two of these words—which are important to understand—are Jidoka and Andon.

At their simplest, this is their meaning:

Jidoka: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. AKA: Autonomation, “Intelligent Automation” or  “Automation with a human touch.” 

Andon: If you see something, say something. A system to stop production and alert the team when problems surface.

Jidoka and Andon in Lean Manufacturing

In manufacturing—although you can apply this concept to almost any industry—Jidoka empowered operators in the manufacturing process to recognize issues and take the initiative to stop work without waiting for management to make the decision.

Originally, the operator would pull the Andon Cord, which was a rope located above the manufacturing line. The process would stop and management, maintenance, and other workers would be signaled of the quality or process problem. An Andon is a signal that can take many forms. It can be activated by an operator pulling a cord or pushing a button, or it can be automatically activated by equipment when a problem is detected.

The principle of Jidoka can be broken down into a few simple steps:

  1. Discover an abnormality.
  2. Stop by using the Andon.
  3. Perform 5 Whys to Identify the root of the problem 
  4. Implement countermeasures (process improvements)
  5. Verify improvements with data

PDCA is a four-stage approach for continually improving processes, products, or services, and for resolving problems. It involves systematically testing possible solutions, assessing the results, and implementing the ones that are shown to work.

Whether used because of a part shortage, equipment malfunction, or a safety concern, the point of Jidoka and Andon is to stop work so the team can gather together, perform a real-time root cause analysis, and quickly apply a solution.

Poka Yokes ensure that the right conditions exist before a process step is executed, and thus preventing defects from occurring in the first place. Where this is not possible, Poka Yokes perform a detective function, eliminating defects in the process as early as possible.

Once the problem is resolved and work continues, the occurrence is logged as part of a continuous improvement system.

How to Use Jidoka and Andon in Lean Manufacturing

There are many ways to use the Jidoka and Andon system in Lean manufacturing and in several other industries. For example, Amazon uses it as part of their Customer Service process.

Regardless of where it’s being used, the only way it works is if you truly empower operators to use it. This means giving operators not only the permission, but the obligation to stop the line when issues arise. Employees, especially in manufacturing, are hesitant to stop the line because of the cost of downtime or for fear of being wrong. 

To most people, it seems counterproductive to completely stop the line. Some will try to resolve the symptom and deal with the root cause later.

The Jidoka and Andon system in Lean manufacturing takes the position that stopping work in the moment will save the organization from major and costly issues in the future.

This fits nicely with the Lean principle of “Respect for People.” If an operator doesn’t feel trusted enough in the environment to stop the line based on their own judgment, huge problems could occur later by not resolving the issue.

Jidoka highlights the causes of problems because work stops immediately when a problem first occurs. This leads to improvements in the processes that build in quality by eliminating the root causes of defects.

Jidoka also requires a plan for resolving the issue. Who will be the team that gathers to perform the root cause analysis and apply the solution?

Given that this can occur at any moment, knowing the players ahead of time will increase the speed of resolution. If operators are left waiting around after pulling the Andon cord, they’ll be less likely to pull it in the future because the cost will seemingly outweigh the benefit.

If it’s a quality issue, fix it. If the machine has problems, maybe do maintenance. And if the machine stopped due to lack of material, restock the material. This fix does not necessarily have to be permanent. However, if you can get a permanent fix—even better!

Benefits of Andon in Lean Manufacturing

Using the Andon system in Lean manufacturing will yield many benefits both in the short and long term. In the short-term, it provides:

  • Visibility and transparency in the production process.
  • Increased productivity and efficiency.
  • Decreased waste.

Long term benefits include:

  • Reduced costs and downtime.
  • Enhanced value to the customer because of better quality products.
  • Responsible operators who are accountable for the line running as efficiently and effectively as possible, empowering them to act when problems arise, rather than waiting for management.
  • Long term improvements to production process.

Like most principles in Lean manufacturing, Jidoka and the Andon cord don’t add value. Likewise, if action isn’t taken immediately when the system is alerted, it defeats the purpose and can actually detract from the value you are targeting. 

Remember: Jidoka and Andon are a method by which to stop the process, allowing the team to apply root cause analysis, and then implement countermeasures. Doing so prevents the process from continuing to produce defective parts.

Jidoka is about quality at source—or built in quality. No company can survive without excellent quality of product and service, and Jidoka and Andon is the route through which this is achieved.