Using Layered Process Audits to Support AS9100 Compliance

Layered Process Audits

By Eric Stoop
October 16, 2017

Using Layered Process Audits

The transition to AS9100:2016 for Aerospace Management Systems is officially underway. Audits can no longer be conducted to the earlier version of the standard, and old certificates will expire on September 15, 2018.

AS9100:2016 was released to account for a major update to ISO 9001, which took place in 2015. The standards introduce a number of new requirements for organizations in areas that include risk management, leadership participation and performance improvement.

Learning about the changes, performing a gap analysis and implementing new controls may be a challenge, particularly for companies with limited quality resources.

One high-leverage tool for ensuring compliance is a layered process audit (LPA) program, which can also significantly reduce defects and quality costs.

Layered Process Audits for Aerospace Suppliers

LPAs are a type of process audit conducted by multiple layers of management from departments across the organization. Repeatedly checking high-risk processes with a known impact on customer satisfaction helps identify errors upstream in production, before they lead to defects.

LPAs have long been used by the automotive industry, where suppliers face stiff competition and little room for error in product safety and quality. Today, aerospace suppliers are starting to adopt LPAs as they look to improve competitiveness and reduce quality costs. By fully implementing an LPA program, companies have been able to cut defects in half over the course of just a few months.

In some cases, companies will implement an LPA program to address a burning platform situation related to quality performance. The highly structured approach of LPAs, however, also allows companies to adapt them for other purposes such as environmental, health and safety (EHS) and standards compliance.

Developing Standards-Based Audit Questions

LPAs consist of a brief set of yes or no questions that take only about 10 minutes to complete. Simplicity is the goal, allowing those outside the quality department to conduct audits. In this context, companies can break the AS9100 audit up into different pieces, developing LPA questions around specific requirements in the standard.

For instance, third-party auditors will often ask random employees to find quality management system (QMS) documents on the company intranet. If you make this into LPA questions that auditors check on a regular basis, you won’t be scrambling to get everyone up to speed right before your certification audit.

In this way, LPAs help you get more value from AS9100, rather than just pouring time and effort into passing the audit and filing away your certificate afterward. By embedding standard requirements into your daily processes, you’re achieving the true spirit of AS9100 (and you have the documentation that shows it).

Automating AS9100 Compliance

Since it would be difficult to check all standard requirements, companies should focus on items they’ve failed in the past and/or high-severity violations. Just like in school, you can pretty much guarantee that the question you failed on the test is going to be on the final exam.

Audit software can help streamline your LPA program, helping address key requirements of AS9100 such as:

  • Risk management: LPA software provides a framework for proactively identifying problems and closing the loop on them with corrective action.
  • Leadership participation: Automated scheduling and user-friendly mobile audit capabilities make it easier to loop in management and executives. Data on audit compliance also provides a key element of accountability.
  • Performance improvement: An LPA system lets you move away from time-consuming paper checklists and Excel spreadsheets, speeding up improvement with real-time access to audit data. The ability to shuffle and randomize questions promotes continuous improvement and risk reduction.

LPAs also help meet internal audit requirements of AS9100, and an automated solution provides artifacts and documentation to show you’re actually achieving the intent behind the standard. No matter what future versions may include, having an AS9100 program supported by robust LPA practices puts you ahead of the pack.