If you’re a plant manager, you might not be excited about conducting layered process audits in your facility. Between monitoring plant metrics, managing your team and putting out the latest fire, there’s little room to add yet one more task to your already packed schedule.
It’s understandable given the time and resources required to perform layered process audits (LPAs), which require adding daily and even shift-level checks to team members’ responsibilities.
You might be thinking, “My team is already busy, and now I have to tell other busy people to do more busy work? No thanks.”
In reality, a well-executed LPA program is far more than just another flavor-of-the-month quality initiative. It can help plant managers achieve key goals, including creating a culture of quality and safety, providing insight into plant health and eliminating hidden nonconformances that increase quality costs. Let’s take a look at how.
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1. Driving a Culture of Quality and Safety
Plant managers often want to create a culture of quality and safety, yet it’s something many struggle to produce. How do you turn around something as intangible and yet ingrained as culture, so that people personally take ownership of quality and safety?
LPAs help by:
- Getting executives and senior management onto the manufacturing floor, demonstrating that leadership cares about standards and making quality part of everyone’s job
- Fostering communication between operators and leaders of different areas such as engineering, operation, plant and quality managers, creating more awareness and discussions around quality
- Showing operators that their work is important enough for managers to come check on how they’re doing it and whether they’re adhering to standards
- Ensuring problems are resolved and don’t fall into some black hole, which is easier to do when using a software-based system that links LPA findings directly to corrective actions
It’s not just about finding problems—it’s also about showing appreciation and care for the operator. If personal protection equipment (PPE) is required and a manager comes to see if the operator is wearing it, whether it’s comfortable and if the PPE helps achieve safety in the first place, it shows you’re not just looking for mistakes. It shows you actually care about the person.
2. Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of the Plant
While plant managers want to ensure that everyone is adhering to standards, they must also keep a watchful eye on performance metrics like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), scrap rate and cycle time.
In this context, LPAs are a strategic tool for keeping a finger on the heartbeat of the plant. An analogy our team at The Luminous Group often uses is that when you go to see the doctor, the first thing the nurse does is check your vital signs. They take your pulse, blood pressure and temperature, perhaps even looking in your eyes and ears to make sure you don’t have any systemic infections or other underlying problems underlying.
LPAs do the same thing for plant managers, providing a key window into plant health. By increasing transparency around standardization and process nonconformances, they help ensure systems are in place and operating as expected.
3. Rooting Out the Hidden Factory
The hidden factory refers to unseen processes that actively undermine quality, leading to increased defects, complaints costs. It’s a huge problem for manufacturers, with clients of ours reporting hidden factory costs totaling as much as $500 million.
For example, let’s say Joe is reworking parts at his station. If Joe goes on vacation and Mary takes over, you’ll likely have a massive quality escape on your hands because nobody knew that Joe was taking extra steps.
Or maybe a line supervisor decides to speed up cycle time because they’re a little behind, without realizing that doing so will cause warpage or other hidden damage to the part.
In both cases the parts have been manufactured using a process that is not adhering to the standard. This issue leads to quality problems that may not be found until much later, or in the worst-case scenario, found by customers. This can result in rework, sorting and most costly of all: reputational damage!
LPAs provide a critical lever that plant managers can use to root out hidden factory processes. With regular checks, an auditor might notice and ask Joe why he’s bending tabs back in place with his thumb, possibly revealing a deeper problem that needs correcting.
As many plant managers we talk to say, you can only solve the problems you know about. How do you find out about problems? You have to go looking for them. That’s where LPAs come in, providing greater transparency and visibility needed to ensure people and machines are operating to standard.
LPAs can seem like a mountain of work for plant managers already overwhelmed with tracking performance metrics and putting out fires. By increasing communication and adherence to standards—and by being present on the manufacturing floor—plant managers can drive a culture of quality and safety, ensure key systems are working and eliminate hidden sources of defects.