Toyota is retiring the fabled "andon cord," the emergency cable strung above assembly lines that came to symbolize the built-in quality of the Toyota Way and was widely copied through the auto industry and beyond.
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.
It was not clear when the change would take place at Toyota's U.S. plants.
Andon cords are a fixture in modern auto factories, draped over lines like Christmas garland. The idea: Workers pull the cord to alert co-workers when a problem crops up so they can get help. If the glitch persists, workers may even stop the line to troubleshoot.
The cords are essential to Toyota's concept of built-in quality, or catching problems before they head down the line and are cemented in place in a completed vehicle.
That function won't be lost with the buttons, but cutting the cords will change the factory landscape. And that is exactly the goal, under a concept called blue-sky factories.
Toyota's manufacturing gurus want to cut the clutter over the workspace, creating a sort-of blue sky, for a couple reasons. 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.