Toyota is cutting the cord.
No, we're not talking about a cable TV bill, but potentially something much bigger when it comes to manufacturing trends. The Japanese carmaker has dropped the “fabled” andon cord at two of its plants — the overhead cord that is at the center of so much of the Toyota Production System, the lean manufacturing system which allows any worker to act on a problem by pulling a cord to signal supervisors or even halt the line.
The andon cord has been touted as such a key to high quality manufacturing that Toyota Motor Corp. made promotional videos about it, while suppliers and competitors adopted it for its own plants.
But times change. As Hans Greimel, a reporter for Plastics News sister publication Automotive News writes, when Toyota revamped its Tsutsumi plant at its headquarters of Toyota City, Japan, it eliminated the cords. They were also dropped at an assembly facility in Japan.
“Toyota's manufacturing gurus want to cut the clutter over the workspace, creating a sort-of blue sky, for a couple reasons,” Greimel wrote. “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.”
You can read the whole story here.
But the concept behind the andon cord isn't going away. Toyota instead installed buttons that workers can press to signal problems.
So does that mean that other plants and automakers will follow suit? Don't be surprised if they do, since the Toyota Production System has become the template for manufacturers the world over. Maybe the next time you're getting ready to bring a new plant online, you'll be encouraged to invest in the latest lean technology: the button.
(Thanks to PN news editor Rhoda Miel for this post).