Layered Process Audits: A Guide for Automation Improvement by
Thomas R. Cutler
The notion of continuous process improvement is often hidden, unclear or downright obscured. While the goals of lean manufacturing and reducing waste may seem obvious, the means to achieve them are not. The low hanging fruit of reduced labor costs via automation is often seen as a quick fix with a rapid return on investment. The assumption is that automated equipment and guided vehicles will be moving through the factory floor in lieu of high-cost labor. While there are certainly gains to be made in this area, operations managers and other supply chain professionals frequently overlook additional opportunities that can be generated from such initiatives.
One example of this missed opportunity is around audit and inspection programs. A successful roll out of automated equipment does not remove or reduce audit requirements for the associated processes. Whether the audit requirement is sourced from industrial standards, such as ISO or ASA, or government regulatory compliance such as FDA, EPA, or OSHA, or contractual obligations to an OEM or required by internally mandated safety or quality initiatives, running multiple audit and inspection programs is unavoidable.
The stated purpose of these programs may include goals such as increasing quality, reducing defects or improving safety. However in many cases, operations and quality managers see these programs as a "check-the-box" exercise and operate them as cheaply as possible while meeting the standard. However, leading manufacturers have recognized an accelerating trend of increasing audit requirements and are investing in systems that not only "check-the-box", but also improve quality and provide unique visibility for management into operational excellence.
LPAs: A Signal for Guidance
Layered Process Audits (LPA) was developed by Chrysler and based on Toyota's approach to quality management. Previously limited to automotive, LPAs and similar audit requirements are moving into other areas of manufacturing.
LPAs ensure established processes are followed - by everyone in the organization - every time. There is one organizational version of the truth. The process observed by a shop floor supervisor is consistent and congruent with the process observed by the quality assurance manager (and all other personnel). By utilizing root cause analysis, organizations identify problems before they appear in final products. By adding layers of oversight, organizations ensure the integrity of audit results.
According to Eric Stoop, CEO of Ease, Inc., "An LPA program involves all levels of operations and management in process audits, which observe and validate how products are made, rather than just inspecting the finished product. Supervisors conduct process audits in their own area, while higher-level managers conduct the same audits less frequently and over a broader range of areas."
LPAs also offer improvements with total engagement. They drive awareness and interaction between all levels of an organization, helping management remain familiar with processes and strengthening relationships between management and personnel.
LPAs Drive Customer Satisfaction and Reduced Safety Costs
LPA programs are implemented in order to assure OEM customers that manufacturers have strong processes and controls in place to help meet existing needs - and that suppliers are ready to take on additional growth. However, most LPA programs do not centralize or even retain the audit results and therefore have limited ability to report results on anything other than single sites or single departments.
Whether a manufacturer is required to conduct Layered Process Audits (LPAs) or has another established auditing approach in place, investing in audit tools such as Ease's Beacon can lead to significant savings while also improving quality and customer satisfaction. Stoop added that "Many audit programs are carried out on paper or spreadsheets and the data discarded or never utilized. By integrating multiple audit programs onto one platform, the collected data can provide new insights into trends in quality, waste and safety."
Manufacturers using new LPA solutions can also realize dramatically reduced safety costs. Insurance premiums and incident costs are can be significant. Leading LPA tools include the flexibility to also run safety audits and inspections on the same platform. These programs ensure safety programs are actually followed meticulously, resulting in a reduction of operator injuries and potential insurance premium reductions.
Key Features Needed to Automate Layered Process Audits
Best-in-class LPA solutions must provide management with insights on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are relevant to the business. Easy-to-understand pre-built dashboards are essential, including Pareto charts, and robust reporting and dashboard creation tools giving insight with metrics the company requires. Only with full visibility of audits by type and location, can manufacturers quickly and easily identify, address, and correct the organization's most chronic process failures.
Managers must be able to randomize audits and audit schedules, ensuring complete engagement throughout the organization. Ease Beacon, for example, ensures non-conformances are assigned to someone for corrective action and views mitigation activities in real-time.
Theory of Constraints (ToC) suggests LPA software should allow for flexible question and response types, including Pass/Fail, Acknowledge, Measurements, Scoring, and Comments. LPA solutions must feature tag questions and share them across audits. LPA Audit questions should include contextual explanations for different management levels, as well as photos and videos.
Easily managing and scheduling audits automates recurring assignments and provides instant visibility of personnel resources and audit requirements to meet LPA goals. Stoop noted, "Easy-to-use cloud-based assessment platforms allow organizations to establish and implement a Layered Process Audit Process program or nearly any other audit or inspection program with virtually no training?customers see results almost immediately."
The real treasure of automation data is the capacity to utilize information and business intelligence in an accurate, dynamic, and lean-thinking predictive manner. In most cases valuable data is being collected and then discarded. With a centralized audit solution that covers scheduling, managing, collection and reporting new insights can be gained that open doors to improvement and reduced waste. LPA solutions provide the most important beacon for automation guidance.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 5000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler.
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