Quality professionals are the unsung heroes of manufacturing. Your top goal is reducing defects and improving quality, and yet sometimes it feels like all you get is resistance.
Taking the time to do things right can impact production targets, often meaning that quality is only valuable to the point that it reduces defects to tolerable levels. In many cases, you’re also contending with inefficient systems focused more on reacting to problems than preventing them.
If you’re facing these roadblocks and wondering how you can make your mark, a layered process audit (LPA) program is a high-return initiative that can help you do it.
Defining Layered Process Audits
LPAs are a type of audit focused on identifying process variations before they lead to defective products. In contrast with reactive quality assurance methods that only measure outputs, LPAs look at inputs like equipment, materials and people to ensure process standardization.
The layers in an LPA program come from the different layers of management involved in checking high-risk processes, including:
- Supervisors and team leads (daily audits)
- Middle management (weekly audits)
- Site leaders (monthly audits)
- Executives (quarterly or annual audits)
How an Layered Process Audit System Drives ROI
An automated LPA system reduces quality costs and fosters a culture of quality in an organization by:
- Creating daily opportunities for communication and feedback between management and operations
- Minimizing scrap, rework and customer returns by identifying errors at the point of production
- Providing real-time data that shows where problems are most likely to occur in the future
- Making everyone accountable for quality, as opposed to just delegating it to the quality manager
Paper-Based Layered Process Audits
It’s common for companies to start their LPA journey using paper checklists and Excel spreadsheets to track and manage audits. It’s an inefficient approach that creates several problems for organizations:
- Administrative burden: Scheduling and managing LPAs can require two full-time employees who could otherwise be working on more strategic projects. Someone also has to manually enter results from paper checklists, a task that has a tendency to fall through the cracks.
- Underutilization: The difficulties of scheduling and managing daily audits means companies using paper-based methods typically complete just a small fraction of audits. It also means they achieve just a small fraction of the potential results.
- Poor data integrity: This is a huge issue for automotive suppliers trying to comply with customer requirements. Pencil-whipping is prevalent, where people check off every item without verification to finish the audit faster.
- Data lag time: For companies that do manage to enter and analyze their data, the process can take weeks or months. At that point, it’s too late to do much with what you find. That’s not proactivity—that’s an autopsy.
Layered Process Audit Software
Cloud-based LPA software solves the problems listed above, offering advantages such as the ability to:
- Automate scheduling and reminders in a matter of minutes
- Send links to electronic checklists directly to the responsible party’s email
- Protect data integrity by rotating auditors and tracking audit duration
- Assign corrective actions, attach photos and close out non-conformances
- Complete a higher percentage of scheduled audits
- Get real-time data that improves visibility into quality
- Develop leading indicators so you can manage problems as soon as metrics start slipping
Making Your Case for an LPA System
Depending on your role, you may have limited power or budget to implement an LPA program in your organization. In this situation, remember that what you do have is an opportunity to contribute ideas that could have a huge impact on the company. To make your case effectively, focus on:
- Bottom-line business benefits such as the ROI of LPAs
- Benchmarking against competitors that have implemented LPAs
- The role of automation in getting up and running immediately with minimal resources
If you feel like productivity is constantly competing with quality in your organization, it’s important to recognize that this is a false choice. When you manufacture products right the first time, checking daily that standards are in place, it benefits the entire plant. Productivity goes up, costs go down, and with any luck, those who made it happen will get the recognition they deserve.