First, the good news: You've just landed a contract with a major automaker, an opportunity that promises to be a huge game-changer for your organization.
Now the not-so-good news: the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) requires you to implement a layered process audit (LPA) program across your plant. LPAs are a sub-type of process audits that apply multiple layers of checks to process inputs known to affect quality. LPAs verify that operators are following standard procedures every shift to minimize variation, defects and costs.
Implementing these high-frequency audits is a condition of doing business with leading automotive OEMs, but they also build the foundation for quality culture. Here we discuss the main steps of implementation, including planning your LPA program, conduting audits and ongoing improvement.
Understand and Communicate the Value of LPAs
Winning a major contract is a great motivator for implementing LPAs, but it shouldn’t be your only motivation. Implemented correctly, LPAs can transform company culture, allowing organizations to:
- Reduce quality costs: Companies that have implemented LPAs have been able to reduce internal PPM and customer defects by more than half.
- Standardize processes: LPAs foster process standardization with frequent checks, proactively identifying problems causing quality issues.
- Build a culture of quality: LPAs help companies of all maturity levels foster a quality culture. By involving a cross-section of employees, LPAs make quality a team effort and provide ample opportunities for in-person feedback. Rotating auditors safeguards against people overlooking process non-conformances to buddy pass their friends.
- Solve problems faster: By increasing visibility into shop floor processes, LPAs help you find and resolve problems quickly.
The Automotive Industry Action Group’s CQI-8 Layered Process Audit Guideline is a great resource for learning more about what goes into LPAs and what OEMs expect to see.
Create Your LPA Team
During the planning process, it’s critical to involve top management to ensure buy-in and participation. Once leadership decides to move forward with LPAs, it’s time to loop in managers who will be champions of your program.
LPAs typically include people from areas that include manufacturing, supply chain, engineering and even areas like finance and human resources. Operations will conduct the majority of audits, while design engineers can identify critical-to-quality elements for writing checklist questions. Involving cross-functional groups—rather than leaving it to the quality department—is step one in creating a quality culture.
Write Effective Layered Process Audit Questions
LPAs should take no longer than 15 minutes to conduct, so aim to keep process audit checklists to 15 questions (or even fewer).
LPA effectiveness hinges on the quality of your checklist questions. You want to choose questions that come from the process steps, procedures and standards that are at the highest risk of failure, identifying questions from areas such as:
- Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) and process failure modes and effects analysis (PFMEA)
- Defects and complaints
- Recurring problems
- Scrap reports
- Safety incidents
- Audit findings
- Corrective actions
Create Audit Schedule and Assignments
A big part of what makes LPAs work so well is their high frequency, with LPA programs typically consisting of three layers:
- Layer 1: Team leads and supervisors conducting shift-level audits
- Layer 2: Middle management performing weekly audits.
- Layer 3: Plant manager and executives do monthly and/or quarterly audits.
It’s best to send out an email reminder when audits are due with instructions on how to access checklists. If you’re using an automated LPA system, you can provide a link directly to the electronic checklist so people can more easily complete the audit.
Conduct Layered Process Audits
Organizations implementing LPAs can expect to perform at least several hundred audits per year. Key considerations for this step include:
- Paper vs. mobile audits: Manual LPA systems generate volumes of paper checklists that are either simply stored or are entered into spreadsheets to gather reporting. However, often people don't fully trust the data as double-entry causes mistakes. On the other hand, mobile audits allow employees to use an app on company-issued mobile devices, boosting engagement while providing instant access to data.
- Mitigating non-conformances: Be specific about what auditors should do when they find a non-conformance. Determine the criteria for what operators should fix on the spot with a mitigation, and how will you close the loop on issues that require a full corrective action.
- Escalation: You’ll need to have a process for notifying supervisors of missed audits and overdue corrective actions. For example, you might set up an automated email that links back to your tracking system so managers can quickly pull up details.
Ensure Ongoing Review and Continuous Improvement
Management review and participation is the only way to get real results with LPAs. Managers need to be involved in:
- Communicating with employees about non-conformances
- Participating in regular reviews of LPA data
- Reviewing corrective actions, root cause analysis findings, action plans and results
- Providing resources for corrective action
The final element of continuous improvement is rotating your questions, such as removing questions that always pass and adding new ones based on recent corrective actions. Making the change will mean either recalling and reissuing all existing paper checklists, or adding new questions your LPA question database.
If you start out with a paper system, you’re not alone. Companies struggling with the administrative details, however, often find that automation provides the missing link to accelerating results with minimal resources.