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Eric Stoop


Mapping Layered Process Audits to Lean Manufacturing Principles

LPAs make quality part of a daily routine for your entire organization

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 12:03

Roughly 7 in 10 manufacturers have implemented lean manufacturing principles in their organizations, with 5S, Six Sigma, and kaizen representing the most popular strategies today.

One tool that supports these specific approaches and lean manufacturing principles more generally is a layered process audit (LPA) program. LPAs draw auditors from all management layers and departments to verify mission-critical processes on a daily basis.

Let’s examine how LPAs align with lean manufacturing principles, providing a structured approach to unlock the biggest benefits of this popular quality methodology.

The three Ms of waste in lean manufacturing

At the heart of lean methodology is a focus on reducing three broad categories of waste:
MudaThis term refers to activities that add no value, which according to the Lean Enterprise Research Center, represent 60 percent of activities in manufacturing.
MuraTranslating to “unevenness” in Japanese, mura is caused by unleveled demand leading to unused capacity at some times and a mad rush at others.
MuriThis word means “overburden” and represents all the ways companies stress workers and processes.

Process audits help identify these types of inefficiency by providing daily observation and analysis of production processes. Auditors from across the plant also bring new viewpoints to improvement efforts, helping attack the  three Ms on a high level.

Addressing the seven wastes of lean with process audits

Mura and muri are themselves drivers of muda, which can be broken down into the seven wastes of lean that many of us are familiar with:
• Transport
• Inventory
• Motion
• Waiting
• Overproduction
• Overprocessing
• Defects

The types of questions covered by process audit checklists specifically address each of these seven types of muda. They’re especially good at catching and correcting process errors early, when they’re much less expensive to correct. In fact, automotive and aerospace companies have used LPAs to cut customer defects by more than half, also reducing internal defects in parts per million (PPM) by 73 percent.

5S and gemba kaizen

The Process Excellence Network defines gemba kaizen as “a Japanese concept of continuous improvement designed for enhancing processes and reducing waste.”

Gemba refers to where the work is done—the plant floor. Like gemba walks, LPAs require direct observation of plant-floor processes where value is created.

Kaizen focuses on improvements, specifically the 5S methodology to sort, set in order, scrub, standardize, and sustain. Not only can LPAs incorporate specific 5S audit questions, they also support overarching goals of 5S and kaizen more generally. A few examples:
Discipline: LPAs require operators to audit processes every shift, while a plant manager and executives might participate weekly or monthly. Discipline in adhering to the audit process and schedule drives results.
Process standardization: Process audits verify that operators execute tasks consistently according to defined work standards. Executing processes the same way every time is critical to quality, but it’s difficult with repetitive activities, which naturally lead to inattention and shortcuts.
Problem-solving: LPAs create closed-loop processes for solving problems and sustaining the gains through repeat verification. Further discussion on this element and how LPAs and lean problem-solving methods fit together follows below.

Process audits and lean Six Sigma problem solving

Also known as the Deming or Shewhart cycle, the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle is a common approach to problem solving in lean and other methodologies. An extension of the PDCA cycle is the statistically structured Six Sigma method called DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, identify, and control), which is more effective when you have vast amounts of data to apply to the problem.

LPAs align with both of these cycles, helping companies solve problems and mitigate risk throughout the production process. How does LPA fit with these cyclical approaches?
Plan (define, measure, analyze): LPA findings help you identify areas of improvement and what you need to do to get there. For instance, LPA data like audit completion rates and number of nonconformances, can act as leading indicators for reducing defects and costs.
Do (improve): LPAs help you execute change in a consistent, performance-based manner.
Check (control): Data from your LPAs are helpful for evaluating results of improvement efforts. Continuously adding and rotating questions helps check that your improvements are sustained.
Act (control): An effective process audit program includes procedures for addressing nonconformances. That may mean fixing an issue during the audit and recording the mitigation, or assigning the item for corrective action.

Experts will tell you that when lean programs fail to deliver results, it’s often because of a lack of buy-in and understanding on an organizational level. It’s an area where LPAs provide a distinct advantage, because they make quality part of the daily routine for the entire organization. If you use an automated LPA platform, you can also instantly share results with the team.

Increased visibility provides proof of the value of process audits, helping to communicate wins to keep your team motivated and engaged. It gets to the core of what lean is all about—hard data, continuous improvement, and the synergy that comes from an engaged team.

First published on the Beacon Quality blog.


About The Author

Eric Stoop’s picture

Eric Stoop

As Chief Executive Officer of Ease Inc., Eric Stoop leads the development and execution of Ease’s vision and long-term strategy, ensuring company growth through the delivery of innovative products and solutions.