7 FAQs About Layered Process Audits


August 31, 2020

Layered process audits, or LPAs, are a useful quality and operations tool to facilitate process checks and verifications on the plant floor. These unique audits require fast, frequent checks of processes critical to quality, helping prevent production defects before they become quality escapes.

As with any other tool or program, LPAs in a plant can vary in effectiveness depending on how engaged auditors, operators and leaders are.

Ease partnered with The Luminous Group to answer 7 of your most frequently asked questions when it comes to layered process audits, LPA questions, and how solutions like EASE can help drive process excellence.

1.   Who drives LPA in a company?

LPAs are meant to look at the operations of an organization and to confirm that key processes conform to established standards. It stands to reason then that the owner or driver of LPA should be the operations department of the organization.

Too often, LPA is considered a quality department initiative, when in reality it is an operational excellence initiative. Within any given organization, the person leading the LPA program should be the operations manager, plant manager, manufacturing manager, president or other leader.

2.   What’s the ideal frequency for LPAs between all the layers?

The first step in determining LPA frequency is checking to see if there are any customer-specific requirements (CSRs) that your organization needs to adhere to.

Organization Layers for Layered Process Audits

We suggest that supervisors conduct an audit every shift, even if they check different areas and use different questions.

Engineers and other staff should do audits once per week. Having everyone from admin to environmental services, HR, finance and more conduct a weekly audit will result in good coverage for many areas.

Senior management should perform audits at least every two weeks. In fact, we suggest an even higher frequency early in the LPA program launch.

One final group to consider is visiting employees and leaders. If corporate staff is visiting a facility, have them conduct an audit. They will learn more about your plant, quality and operational challenges in that 10-minute audit than they ever expected!

3.   How often should LPA questions be reviewed to see if they should be revised?

Review of LPA questions is a natural process that happens when teams regularly use checklists. For examples, auditors may recommend updating LPA questions that are unclear, while supervisors or front-line employees may point out questions that don’t add value.

Other questions might be updated or even deleted because of process changes, such as when the addition of error-proofing (poka-yoke) devices eliminate the risk for a given element.

On the other hand, if a question is effective, either by identifying nonconformances or eliminating them by keeping the issue top of mind for operators, the question likely won’t need revision.

4.   Do we need unique questions for each manufacturing process, or can we use the same checklist in each area?

The more specific your questions are to each process or station, the better your LPA program will work. Questions tailored to the process require the auditor to go see the work being done, also encouraging interaction with the operators at the site. These types of questions are more likely to drive action and positive change, compared with generic checklists that are easy to pencil whip.

Using software that allows for a question library makes this much easier to manage.  The questions can be tagged or categorized according to the specific process they apply to, and then the software will assign and randomize questions to the appropriate area.

5.   We have the same findings all of the time. How can we address the problems and bring them to management’s attention?

An escalation plan should be part of your LPA system design. Repeat findings or recurrence after mitigation should be escalated to management and assigned to a structured problem-solving team such as 8D or DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control).

It’s critical to present LPA data in a format that’s easy for management to interpret and act upon. Just throwing data at a busy management team is not helpful. Charts that clearly show trends, spikes and repeat findings are essential to drive needed change.

If your LPA system is finding repeat problems, that means the system is working. It then becomes management’s responsibility to address the root cause of the issue and take action.

Correcting problems is imperative to the long-term success of your LPA system. If auditors feel their work is being ignored, they will stop engaging in audits. The problem can quickly lead to pencil-whipping (or “checking the box”), lower on-time audit completion rates or even an increase in missed audits.

6.   Since LPAs aren’t an IATF 16949 requirement, can we have just one layer of the organization do them?

If LPAs are only performed by one layer of the organization, then they aren’t technically LPAs at all.  The second and third layers of verification on a potentially variable process provide accountability to ensure the first layer does their checks appropriately and on time.

Rather than trying to create an LPA system that requires the least amount of work, we suggest looking at what provides the biggest benefit to the organization. During our recent LPA webinar, we recommend targeting questions to high-value operations.

It’s best to look at process inputs that have caused or could potentially cause safety-related failures or expensive quality escapes. If your audit focuses on these high-risk items, then having multiple layers perform LPAs will provide much greater value.

7.   Our company has more than one plant location, and some plant managers are hesitant to use EASE. What’s the best way to help get leadership buy-in to support and drive digital LPAs?

As with any software that automates processes, achieving the potential benefits requires change. Resistance to change is natural, and maybe even more so when corporate leadership is driving software implementation.

Benefits of LPA software to focus on when laying the groundwork for software-driven LPAs include:

  • Dashboarding: Real-time reporting shows who isn’t doing audits and the most frequent findings, with early detection of critical quality trends. These capabilities are critical for plant managers who want to prevent customer issues, spikes in scrap, and other avoidable costs.
  • Automation: LPA software helps reduce administrative time in planning, scheduling, and tracking audits, also eliminating manual data entry. Financial controllers and quality managers in particular may see these as key advantages.
  • Digitization: The use of a smartphone or tablet makes conducting an audit easy and intuitive. Millennials and others who want to minimize paper filing and retrieval are more likely to embrace electronic LPA systems compared with paper-based systems.
  • Record retention: The extensive database provided by a digital LPA tool like EASE, makes it simple to answer management or customer questions about process conformance by product, by process, by shift, and more. The ability to capture photo evidence during an audit eliminates guesswork, lengthy narratives and opinions related to findings.

When it comes to setting your team up for success with layered process audits, it’s hard to deny that digital is the way to go. The core of an effective LPA system is the question library, and the ability to update and randomize questions can make or break your entire program. Paper-based systems are time-consuming and unwieldy for users, blocking continuous improvement while encouraging a minimum effort, compliance-based approach.

Making sure everyone performs their audits on time and ensuring problems are fixed quickly are crucial to quality culture and your reputation with customers. Without these elements in place, your most important contracts may be at risk, while getting it right can help you stand out among the competition.