What are Layered Process Audits and How Can ProcessMAP Simplify Them?

What are Layered Process Audits and How Can ProcessMAP Simplify Them?

By Phill Welch, Senior Director, EHS&Q Digital Transformation, ProcessMAP Corporation.

Layered Process Audits or LPAs are high-frequency audits that are conducted by all layers of the organization, focusing on validating standards and processes rather than the finished goods or products. By engaging every level of an organization from the C-suite executives to plant floor operators, LPAs help to build a culture of EHS and Quality through improved visibility and accountability. Having a CEO or COO personally conduct a 15- minute audit sets LPAs apart from traditional tools and establishes EHS&Q as a visible priority.

Layered Process Audits, or LPAs, have been an essential strategy for the automotive industry’s Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs, and their suppliers for more than 10 years. LPAs help manufacturers take control of the process – the machines, equipment, materials, methods, manpower, and measurement.

They help reduce mistakes and improve the safety of work quality, which ultimately helps improve the bottom line. Organizations with a robust LPA program see significantly lower rework and scrap, they have fewer Quality holdbacks and reduced customer complaints. The word “layered” in the title represents different layers within an organization – those who conduct the audits and the frequency with which they are conducted is different for each layer.

For example, a supervisor can conduct an audit daily in their own work area. A higher-level manager can conduct the same audits weekly or monthly over a range of areas. The audit should also include integrated corrective and preventive actions either during or immediately after the audit.

There are three critical elements to a Layered Process Audit. The first is “Auditors,” which come from different layers of the departments within a company. This can include anyone from a supervisor level all the way up to the CEO. The second element is “Specific Audit Questions,” which are specific to the type of audit being performed. These might pertain to the functionality of a workstation or piece of equipment, for example. The third element is “Reporting,” which takes place once you identify a response to an audit question. This might be a reason why a person is working unsafely or a reason why the speed of a production line is below standard.

Why are Layered Process Audits Important?

According to a recent study, 75% of manufacturing defects result from non-conformance with processes. Layered Process Audits programs focus exclusively on process standardization at every level – including Quality, Operations and Safety. Layered Process Audits effectively reduce costs, which include workers’ compensation claims, injury claims, rework, scrap, and remaking times, to name a few.

Companies use Layered Process Audits as a proactive approach, as auditing is a proactive approach to reducing risk, being compliant, and making management accountable as well. Layered Process Audits help demonstrate compliance with such standards as ISO9001; the IATF16949, which is a technical specification aimed at developing the quality management system; the ISO45001 for safety and the nISO140001 for environmental management. 

Beyond the cost savings associated with injury prevention, Layered Process Audits can also help a company develop a culture of EHS and Quality, with company-wide engagement. Layered Process Audits exceed the boundaries of traditional EHS and Quality and the associated administrative silos to involve people from such departments as Operations, Human Resources, and Finance, to name a few.

Proactive Risk Management

The Layered Process Audits can identify issues that impact customer satisfaction prior to the point of manufacture. Their structure also supports the central goal of corrective action, which is permanently reducing risk. Prioritizing making management visible on the shop floor demonstrates an authentic commitment to the employees.

Layered Process Audits are a daily activity for multiple departments that can help keep everyone focused on EHS and Quality and proactive improvement. LPAs give operators a chance to share their opinions since they are on the plant floor 8 to 12 hours per day. They can offer recommendations directly to management through this process. When they see that the company’s leadership cares enough to be present and interested in fixing problems, they are more likely to speak up and provide feedback.

Layered Process Audits give EHS and Quality teams hard data, and the opportunity to see who is participating as well as who is falling behind in their responsibilities. It also becomes easier to identify individuals for special recognition. Cultural benefits aren’t always tangible, but they are essential building blocks for achieving any ambitious quality cost reductions, continues improvement, EHS improvement or risk reduction.

Three Steps to Starting Layered Process Audits

There are three simple steps to starting layered process audits which are a tool that will help achieve and sustain and hold EHS and Quality gains. 

A simplified framework of starting an LPA program involves three steps:

  1. Verify your processes 
  2. Engage your employees
  3. Build a culture of EHS and Quality 
  • Verify Your Processes

Layered process verification is a term that better describes how Layered Process Audits work – Layered Process Audits are less about trying to find problems, or checking products or systems, but rather are used to verify that processes and standards are being followed. 

There could be a problem with the product or a problem with safety or risk. So in step one of Layered Process Audits, you are verifying whether a specific operation conforms to requirements in the workspace or the department where the activity takes place, by comparing the operator’s actions against the standard work instructions or the SOP. Work instruction should ensure that the work is safe, the work is adding value to the product, and is effective and efficient with continual improvement. You need a baseline or a standard in place to check off against your expectation.

  • Engage Your Employees

True employee engagement shows respect to safety stakeholders regardless of their role or their rank, and it puts everyone on the same level. It also recognizes that the person you are auditing is crucial and important to EHS and Quality. 

The auditor’s role is to be an interested observer, engaged in the process and activity. While conducting the audit, it is important to demonstrate that you are stepping outside your usual role and are focused on this audit. The auditor should be regarded as a trainer or a coach to that employee being audited. If an auditor sees something that’s not right, it should trigger curiosity in the form of a question, not blame. When an auditor finds non-conformance, it’s important to record the issue and report back as soon as possible, even if you’re able to fix the issue right then. 

For bigger issues, it’s not the auditor’s job to fix the problem, but rather to contact the relevant people with the authority and knowledge to trigger the countermeasures and do the problem-solving exercise and the corrective action. If you are using digital software, an efficient approach is to take a picture of the problem and tag those responsible for its mitigation, or corrective action. 

  • Build a Culture of EHS and Quality

Leaders must demonstrate commitment to improvement. If you are truly responsive to problems, people will want to be audited. They will see it as a positive thing, they will see it as a means for making positive changes that would potentially make their jobs easier and safer. These changes could also result in more profit for the company. You need to have all these baselines in place before you start doing all these audits. Employees should also trust that if there is a problem, that management will get to the bottom of it, instead of just blaming the operator.

Digital Transformation of Layered Process Audits 

There are many benefits to conducting LPAs using a digital platform, as opposed to a paper-based audit:

  • Paper checklists are cumbersome and take too long to complete 
  • Reduces the delays and inefficiencies created by manually routing paper forms 
  • Improves efficiency of managing Corrective and Preventive Actions or CAPAs making it easier to delve into reliable corrective and preventive actions, and Quality and EHS managers are able to implement improvement initiatives and get clarity into the status of the plant process changes sooner. For organizations that seek to proactively identify recurring and potential issues, are unable to take preventive actions in advance. Such appropriate actions can significantly reduce the cost of noncompliance. 
  • Streamlined document version control – during an audit, reviewing paper forms reduces the visibility of the document change control process and status in an audit. Chances of manual errors that that may lead to severe consequences are much higher and hamper continuous improvement Initiatives in a stipulated time frame. 
  • Timely metrics – with an absence of detailed analysis, it can be difficult for companies to obtain key operating metrics in the required time frame. Lack of metrics hampers the ability to create or react to compliance-related issues quickly, which ends up basically being higher costs.
  • Enhanced data security – technology-based audits encrypted to protect data from unauthorized access. There is no fear of loss or damage to digital information. Even if paper-based audits are kept safe, over time their appearance can deteriorate.
  • Reduces hidden costs – while paper-based systems may seem to cost less, there are hidden costs in terms of time and effort spent by the organization to complete the paperwork. It is difficult to identify preventive actions, and to ensure timely execution of corrective actions, eventually increasing the cost for compliance and quality.

With a digital LPA platform, users can assign audits quickly and effectively, sending the correct orders to the right person, at the right time, every time.

Users can identify and fix issues in real-time, with an automated notification and checking system, as audits are completed. Many ProcessMAP customers are leveraging the platform and solutions by involving other departments like Quality, Maintenance, and Security, in addition to EHS and ESG.

Customers are benefiting from features including being able to take and upload photos, adding notes to describe identified non-conformance issues, and assigning actions to immediately address urgent issues. Users can share their reports as PDFs.

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