Process audits for manufacturers, defined

Process audits are a common manufacturing practice to ensure adherence to an ever-changing list of normal operating conditions and expectations.

Audits can take a variety of forms, ranging from completing simple checklists and kamishibai cards to cross-functional deep-dives into specific operations. During audits, non-conformances are recorded, categorized, and aggregated. Corrective actions are then managed by operations staff.

Process audits are critical for ensuring that lines are working as they’re intended to, for managing quality and safety, and for catching non-conformances at the source.

Why bother with process audits?

For some organizations, process audits are a necessary part of doing business (many automotive and aerospace/defense manufacturers require their suppliers to conduct and share audits on a regular basis).

For others, process audits are a tool for making objectivity and collaboration a fundamental part of quality.

When performed properly, audits are a powerful tool for continuous improvement.

Here’s why.

So much of manufacturing and operational excellence can be boiled down to a single word: Discipline. How many 5S initiatives, for example, start with the best intentions but soon deteriorate into unused whiteboards?

Process auditing is one of the easiest ways to firmly commit to a practice that improves quality, engagement, and customer satisfaction rates. Best of all, it’s objective, unbiased, and measurable.

Benefits of process audits

To summarize, some of the key benefits of process audits include:

  • Improved quality and safety
  • Fewer corrective actions
  • Reduced scrap and rework
  • Higher first-pass yield
Graphic highlighting the benefits of process audits
Process audits are an easy way to continuously improve your processes.

Types of manufacturing process audits (and why they don’t always work)

While essential, process audits have a reputation as “flavor-of-the-week” improvements with little lasting value.

Process audits require a commitment to a regular practice, and as a result, individuals may start to “pencil-whip” the audit checklist.

Here, the problem is almost always how we do audits, not the audits themselves.

Let’s look at some examples how different audit processes lead to subpar results.

Paper-based checklist audits

In its simplest form – a process audit can be implemented as a checklist.

These checklists often live at the front of every cell or next to the daily management board. It can be populated with any requirements you’d like and is usually refreshed monthly.

In practice, however, we become reliant on a few individuals to perform this task and audits are routinely missed. Or a line leader or support staff will walk through the audit quickly and mark the item as to whether or not it is in compliance.

The paper-based audit checklists don’t help. With paper, the data is tedious to aggregate. It’s hard to gather context for observations. As a result the items that most often fail to be in compliance are overlooked.

As a result audits aren’t completed with discipline, and quality suffers.

Card-based audits

Some organizations have reached the conclusion that audits simply take too long and put too much emphasis on an already overburdened line leader or supporting supervisor or engineer.

These groups might turn to Kamishibai, a quick-and-easy card based auditing program.

The principle behind Kamishibai is that audits should be visual and easy, so that everyone is responsible for auditing. The cards are double-sided with a “GOOD” condition on one side and a “BAD” condition on the other.

Illustration of a Kamishibai board
Kamishibai boards are a card-based visual management tool for organizing audits

Some organizations find this method of auditing more suited to the fast pace and competing priorities of their operation.

Screenshot of Kamishibai Dashboard App in Tulip
Digital Kamishibai applications make it much easier to conduct and manage your audit cadences

While a great visual management technique, these paper-card systems can be difficult to maintain. Creating and maintaining cards is an administrative burden. Frankly, cards can be annoying to make–people want a new audit card, not an arts and crafts assignment.

Layered process audits

Often, audit responsibilities fall unevenly on a few individuals.

This is where layered audits come in.

A layered process audit brings in additional “layers” of an organization into the audit. These can include management, leadership, and other teams alongside shop floor workers. By adding layers to a regular, structured audit process, manufacturers can build a more robust quality program.

How to get the most of your audits with digital apps

So at this point, we’ve seen that paper-based audit processes suffer because:

  1. Paper is prone to error
  2. Cards are time-consuming to manage
  3. Paper-based data is hard to aggregate and analyze

The good news is that there are easy ways to run your audits digitally. With audit applications, you can eliminate paper, gather data in real-time, and streamline your auditing process.

Let’s walk through some examples.

Screenshot of mobile Process Audit App in Tulip
Audit apps put all of the info you need at your fingertips

Digitizing your routine audits with a mobile app

With Tulip’s digital process audit app, you can create, perform, and manage audits.

Each time you create a new audit, you have the option of fill in some basic information, like title, location, and audit instructions. You can also incorporate pictures of the items in the audit to give an auditor a point of reference.

After you start and audit, you move progressively through each audit item. Within the audit, you can think of each screen in the audit app as a “card.” The auditor will walk the floor, check on processes and equipment, and record whether the findings are acceptable from their mobile phone.

If any non-conformances are found, the app automatically creates a corrective action. You can see all open actions in a single dashboard, making it easy to plan and coordinate improvements.

Finally, you can see the results of your audits over time, in pareto charts, or any form of visualization that works for you.

Screenshot of mobile Production Dashboard App in Tulip
With audit apps, performance results are available immediately

How to get started with digital process audit apps

Process audits are one of the easiest ways to digitize your processes.

The process audit app featured above is pre-made and ready for use on your shop floor. All of the fields can be configured and updated for your unique processes. All without writing a single line of code.

If you’re ready to start digital audits, you can get started today with a free trial with Tulip.

Digitize your process audits with a free trial of Tulip

Learn how you can unlock real-time continuous improvement with Tulip's process audit app.

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