Section 18.104.22.168 of General Motors (GM) IATF 16949 customer-specific requirements states,
“The organization shall incorporate an internal layered process audit process to assess compliance to standardized processes, to identify opportunities for continuous improvement, and to provide coaching opportunities.”
Layered process audits (LPAs) provide daily checks of high-risk processes and known customer issues, involving all layers of the organization and holding management accountable for quality. GM lists just nine elements in its IATF 16949 customer-specific requirements, but those few lines pack a huge punch in terms of their impact on supplier operations.
Suppliers must also read between those lines to earn or maintain IATF certification, addressing areas like management participation, corrective action verification and key performance indicator (KPI) tracking.
1. Be Ready to Show How Leadership is Involved with Layered Process Audits
One thing you can count on is IATF auditors asking management pointed questions about your plant’s LPA program. The requirement clearly states that “the layered process audit is led by Management who are competent to conduct the audits,” so you should be prepared to answer questions such as:
- When did you or other leaders last conducted an audit
- How LPAs work and how you execute them across the organization
- What layers of the organization are involved in conducting audits and at what frequency
- How you’re monitoring LPA results and corrective actions
2. Adjust Layered Process Audit Questions Frequently
The most recent version of GM’s IATF 16949 customer-specific requirements includes a new item requiring suppliers to use LPAs for corrective action verification. In the requirements, GM also states that customer complaints and rejections must trigger a layered process audit with specific questions related to that issue.
An easy way to comply with these requirements is to rotate LPA questions regularly, removing questions that always pass and adding new questions based on recent corrective actions. This is easier with an automated LPA platform, which also lets you randomize questions to help you cover a wide variety of issues.
What GM wants to see is that you’re using LPAs to escalate issues from one layer to another. How is the next level reacting to problems, and how are you holding top management responsible for resolving them? If you don’t close the loop by verifying that corrective action worked, you’re creating the potential for a major quality failure. Ultimately, it also means your LPAs are nothing more than checklists.
3. Prioritize Audit Monitoring and Measurement
GM’s IATF 16949 customer-specific requirements state that LPA findings must be recorded and measured for improvement. What are auditors looking for here?
- Documented tracking of LPA results, rather than just filing away checklists without entering findings or following up on them
- Metrics that show how you are using LPA data to improve quality
- Regular management reviews of LPA findings
Tracking KPIs around audits and corrective actions is also a best practice for improving quality. KPIs like time to closure for corrective action, number of overdue requests and audit completion rates are all examples of leading indicators that provide advance warning of quality problems.
Getting Layered Process Audits Right from the Start
Experts agree that getting LPAs right from the beginning will help avoid problems, both with IATF certification and quality issues in general. Not meeting LPA requirements is enough to lose IATF 16949 certification and/or end up on an automaker’s no-bid list. Ineffective auditing practices are a direct contributor to quality escapes that cost manufacturers millions of dollars, with quality costs totaling 10-40% of an organization’s revenue.
Implementing a robust LPA system from the beginning, however, helps you avoid compliance issues and reduce defects quickly to stand out as a high-performing supplier. One automotive supplier, for example, reported a 73% drop in PPM just six months after implementing an automated LPA platform.
These results don’t come from a “check the box” mentality, and they also provide much more value than simply keeping you in compliance. Implemented properly, LPAs translate into higher customer satisfaction across the board, lower costs and improved public safety.