Oh No! Toyota is “Cutting the andon cord!”

WHAT DO WE DO!!

I’ve had three or four people forward various links to a story from Automotive News titled “Toyota Cutting the Fabled Andon Cord, Symbol of Toyota Way.”

Most of those people didn’t read past the headline.

I’ll quote from one paragraph into the article:

“In its place are yellow call buttons perched waist-high within easy reach along the line for workers to hit when a problem pops up requiring help or the line to be stopped.

Toyota switched to the buttons last year at its flagship Tsutsumi assembly plant in Toyota City, during a factory renovation. In Japan, the buttons were first used by a vehicle-assembling subsidiary, Toyota Motor East Japan Inc., at a Miyagi plant.”

The implication?

They got tired of the overhead rope getting in the way of flexibility in how they arranged the line, material, work flows. They improved their system. It is easier for a worker to initiate a help call (which leads to a line stop if the issue isn’t resolved quickly).

They first saw an obstacle (rope in the way) to another improvement (flexibility). They ran an experiment (at the Miyagi plant), wrung out the details, then put it into place in Tsutsumi for a larger scale trial.

What is totally consistent here is the approach to improvement.

We, once again, have confused the artifacts (overhead ropes, work documented a certain way, a method for distributing parts, an approach to tracking quality issues) with the purpose: Making gaps between “what should be” and “what actual is” every more clear so the can work on getting to the next level.

I suppose a headline that read “Toyota Replaces Overhead Rope With Buttons for Improved Flexibility” wouldn’t garner the same number of hits, nor would it trigger blog posts across the lean community, so I guess that headline worked for its intended purpose.

Here is what the andon is all about:

If anyone is looking for evidence that Toyota is somehow abandoning the principle of “Stop the line before passing along bad quality… this isn’t it.”

Move along…

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