Sustain with Layered Process Audits

Layered Process Audits (LPAs) have become quite popular and in many cases mandatory for suppliers in the automotive industry. The effects of properly conducted layered process audits can be substantially positive. Because layered process auditing reduces the number of operator errors they have spread to industries outside of automotive.

So, what is a Layered Process Audit? They are a system of audits performed by multiple layers of supervision and management to monitor key process operations, characteristics and verify process conformance on an ongoing basis. LPAs are an excellent tool for minimizing variation in your processes and error-proofing systems.

A layered process audit is an ongoing chain of simple verification checks that ensure a defined process is followed correctly. It is a powerful management tool that can improve safety, quality and cost savings by amplifying problem solving systems and making continuous improvement almost routine. Through observation, evaluation and conversations on the manufacturing floor, these checks ensure key work steps are performed properly. LPA interactions are also an excellent way for managers to show respect for frontline workers.

Let’s identify some essential components of a Layered Process Audit Program

* Management must take ownership of the LPA process
* Auditors Must identify and ask the right questions
* All management layers, top to bottom, must participate
* Immediate containment of nonconformances found
* Continual improvement must be included in the process
* Shift, daily, weekly scheduled and performed audits

Survey data shows excessive process input variation is the single largest cause manufacturing quality problem. This often results from a failure to reinforce process corrective actions. Or, can be attributed to a failure to follow the required steps and methods. Layered process audits reduce this variation along the manufacturing line up through the ranks of plant management. This helps ensure that operators are following the process steps.

Keep in mind that a layered process audit system must have a documented audit structure (just as quality system standards require) that schedules auditors at pre-determined levels and frequency of audits. These audits focus on process operations and error-proofing, not on finished product inspections.

One of the most common questions we hear with 5S (and Lean for that matter) is how do you sustain? Sustaining 5S can be very difficult without the use of a formal process. A layered audit program can be used successfully to ensure that your company’s 5S efforts continue.

Layered Audits are tied directly into the fifth S – Sustain – and they are the means used in Lean Improvement Systems to avoid “backsliding” into old habits, creating sustainable culture change. Layered Process Audits require that multiple operational levels within an organization review the same key operational controls to ensure sustainability. Simply stated, they are an ongoing chain of simple verification checks, which through observation, evaluation and conversations on the line; assure that the process is being properly performed.

The key is everyone is an “auditor”. This starts with the operator personally checking their process for compliance. Then the first line supervisor checks key processes, where feedback is immediate as are any agreed-upon corrective actions. The next level supervisor would then make the same checks, and so forth.

The essential part of the Layered Audit is the creation of a standard checklist You must identify and ask the right questions on the checklist. This is where Standard work at all levels of the organization is critical. Layered Audits is a formalization of “management by walking the Gemba”.

Layered Process Audits can be compared to a pilot’s preflight checklist. Is my operation ready for take-off? Am I confident that everything is in place to build and ship conforming product to my customer? When the day goes smoothly, management and operators can use the time saved to work on improvements. The beauty of LPAs is that managers often can learn much about the manufacturing processes from operators, and operators can learn much about what is important to customers from managers.

Let’s review some of the proven benefits of LPAs.

* Reduces variation in processes
* Improves & maintains operational discipline
* Reduces scrap and eliminates waste
* Improves overall quality and reduces costs
* Stops problems from becoming nonconformances

Quality Guru Asks: What success have you had in performing layered audits? If your not, and want to learn more, contact me for a Free Layered Audit Checklist.

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