The Essential Guide to Implementing a Lean Andon System in Heavy Equipment Manufacturing

Because heavy equipment manufacturing often entails numerous and complex processes that are performed in large plants over a long period of time, it is more difficult for management to know what is going on everywhere at all times. However, industry threats such as shorter product life cycles, labor shortages and tariffs make it more important than ever for everyone at the manufacturer to know the status of operations at all times, in real time. Heavy equipment manufacturers who haven’t already done so are now looking to implement technology that can solve their challenges. Lean Manufacturing elements such as an Andon system provide visibility across assembly lines and can help heavy equipment manufacturers improve productivity and profitability.

When downtime is a KPI for your heavy equipment manufacturing team, stopping the line seems counterintuitive. Yet that’s exactly what Lean Manufacturing Andon systems are designed to do. Undoubtedly, there were many skeptics when Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno presented the idea that production would increase if every employee on the assembly line immediately halted production when they noticed a problem or defect. In fact, those lines whose management implemented the Andon system at Toyota had a large drop in productivity at first, while those who did not use Andons had no decrease. However, it didn’t take long for the Andon-using assembly lines to catch up and exceed the others in productivity and quality. The initial loss in production was simply a good investment in improving the manufacturing process. If you are considering such an investment, this post will guide you on implementing Andons into your manufacturing. 



Often, the weak link in the chain is the same as the strength—your people. Keep in mind that the concept behind Andon systems is that employees can spot quality problems that will inhibit flow at their station or further down the line, establish the root cause and come up with a solution before minor issues grow into major ones. If people ignore the Andons, the system is not all that useful. So, it’s key that you educate all stakeholders in the purpose behind the change and set expectations (new processes are not a magic bullet). Tell the Toyota story and encourage them to give it a fair shake.


Before implementing your Andon system is the ideal time to analyze the current situation. Schedule some time to observe the shop floor. Your goal is not to correct or reprimand employees, but to identify problems and improve processes. In this action step, you are looking for waste. Some waste you can eliminate rather quickly and easily, so grab that low-hanging fruit first. Here is a checklist of common issues and ways to deal with them:

Bottlenecks. When people are standing idly for the parts they need to do their jobs or when parts are waiting to be used, you likely have a bottleneck. Some ways to address bottlenecks are to:

1. Add capacity.  Sometimes bottlenecks are caused by one step in the process that takes longer than others. If this is the case, consider adding more people or another station to accelerate the flow.2.

2. Look for steps you can eliminate. Are there extra features or processes that don’t add value for your customers? If they are causing a bottleneck, eliminate them. 

3. Slow production. If you can’t quickly find and fix the bottleneck, temporarily slow production rates while you investigate the root cause of the workflow problem. While this is not a long-term solution, it can prevent even more waste from occurring.

Unorganized work stations. Are all the necessary tools and materials easy to find and access? Time lost looking for items adds up and can cause bottlenecks. Use the 5 S Lean tool to eliminate waste by following these steps:

1. Sort. Remove everything from the work area that is not needed.

2. Set In Order. Organize and label the remaining items for quick and easy location.

3. Shine.  Clean and inspect the work area. Remove trash, debris, grease etc., so that it is easy to identify leaks or other problems in the work area.

4. Standardize. Set policies and procedures to regularly practice the previous steps and keep the work area in great condition.5. Sustain. Keep it up, so it becomes a habit for everyone.

5. Sustain. Keep it up, so it becomes a habit for everyone.

Not using time efficiently.  Changeover time, consisting of internal and external activities, can be a significant time waste. Because internal activities can only be performed when the process is stopped, it’s good to eliminate these as much as possible.  The following improvements are ways to reduce changeover time:

1. Identify tasks that are currently internal, but can be external. If the task that is currently being performed during changeover (e.g., cleaning, inspecting, gathering tools) can be completed while the equipment is running, move it to before or after changeover.

2. Convert internal tasks to external tasks. For example, modify equipment so steps can be performed while the process is running (e.g., installing levers or knobs instead of bolts, installing safety guards so cleaning can take place while equipment runs).

3. Simplify internal tasks. Eliminate all non-essential operations such as extra movement, waiting, and machinery adjustments.

4. Create Standardized Work instructions that allow your employees to get more efficient over time.


Andon Systems can be as simple as stack lights and buttons at each workstation and as complex as giant signboards and digital displays. Your shop floor setup and specific industry will often dictate what you need. Regardless, you will want to consider ahead of time how you will use the lights and what each of the colors signify. For example, normal operations are often depicted by a green light, whereas a yellow light often signals that the station will need attention soon. In addition to assigning meaning to each light, you should also outline specific protocols for what a worker should do while waiting for assistance. In heavy manufacturing, giving the entire organization visibility into production is important, so you should look for an Andon system that also allows you to monitor statuses from anywhere.

Are you looking for Andons? Consider our platform solution that works with your other technology and gives you real-time actionable insights into your lines. Get the whole team on board with both digital and physical Andon Stack Lights as well as a SaaS platform that allows you to monitor statuses from any internet-enabled device. Combine that with the power of production pace timers, dispatch queues, and messaging, and you’ll be boosting labor productivity in no time. Find out more on our platform page and get a free trial to see how it works.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *