Using Coronavirus Shutdown for Continuous Improvement Activities

Published on: June 5, 2020
By: Rich Nave

Automakers across the globe have shut down in the wake of the coronavirus as manufacturers face multiple issues from part shortages to potential health risks to employees.

The move brings a lot of uncertainty for everyone throughout the entire automotive supply chain. As manufacturers begin to stick their toes into restarting, no one knows how successful restart activities will be. And it certainly won’t be as easy as flipping a switch to make it happen. One thing manufacturers can do is use this downtime for continuous improvement, as well as strategic preparation for the restart.

With that in mind, the following are key actions you can take now to ensure you come back stronger than ever, focusing on process reviews and restart process development.

Process Reviews

At The Luminous Group, we recommend process reviews as the ideal place to start because the data provides the first layer of a risk assessment. Potential data to review includes:

  • Internal scrap
  • Rework
  • Customer returns
  • Warranty
  • Layered process audit (LPA) findings

Additionally, we recommend you review 8D and corrective action report (CAR) findings from the past six months, prioritizing based on severity. You’ll want to keep these two goals in mind during your review:

  1. Make sure you’ve identified the true root cause of each problem and applied improvements appropriately
  2. Look for general weaknesses in 8D problem analysis and plan to close those gaps for

Utilizing this analysis can help you pinpoint problem areas that are ripe for process improvement.

Update Process Documentation

How long has it been since you’ve been able to focus time on updating your process documentation? Now is a perfect time to prioritize this activity, particularly in areas such as:

  • Process flow: Examining process flows can help identify areas of waste or process steps that may be contributing to quality issues.
  • Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA): After reviewing problem areas, make sure to revisit the FMEA to update all possible failure modes and their causes and make sure you understand the potential effects. Most importantly, ensure necessary controls are appropriately in place and documented. Lastly, review whether effects and causes have the correct scoring or whether you’ve underestimated risk or occurrence.
  • Control plan: If you update an FMEA, you may also need to update the control method, for example by adding new or increased inspections or audits.
  • Work instructions: Are your work instructions in alignment with the FMEA and control plan updates? If not, how you can improve instructions to avoid quality problems.

Layered Process Audit System Review

A layered process audit is a structured set of process verifications conducted by various employees within an organization, from quality engineers to plant leadership. Implementing an LPA program is often a requirement by an OEM meaning some manufacturers just conduct them to comply with customer requirements. However, done correctly, an LPA confirms things are done right the first time by ensuring adherence to procedures and standards of core processes.

Now is a perfect opportunity to reexamine your LPA system—which may have become outdated since initial implementation—to determine whether it’s working effectively and how to improve it.

Pay particular attention to:

  • LPA statistics: Evaluate data such as percentage of audits completed on time, as well as whether findings are resolved in a reasonable amount of time.
  • Audit questions: How effective are your LPA questions? What kind of information are you getting? Do some of your questions cause confusion or inconsistency? During this review make sure to eliminate out-of-date questions originally intended for a specified period (e.g., 90 days after corrective action).
  • LPA Schedules: Pay attention to whether all team members scheduled to conduct audits are participating. If not, what are the causes? Do they need extra training, or more reinforcement from their manager? Conversely, you might identify new departments where adding LPAs could prevent quality issues.
  • Mitigation: Can you address any open issues during your downtime?

For more ideas of how to improve your LPAs, download “Best Practices to Make Layered Process Audits Meaningful.”

Evaluate Potential Process Redesign

As the pandemic continues, it’s likely workers will have been out of work for many weeks. How will you make sure they do the right things correctly when they return? Will processes need to be redesigned to meet new government requirements that reduce the risk of viral transmission?

As you consider process changes, make sure to:

  1. Review and understand customer requirements
  2. Define critical characteristics
  3. Incorporate process changes into documentation
  4. Use FMEA to conduct a risk assessment of new processes
  5. Implement controls to prevent and detect errors
  6. Review and update work instructions
  7. Audit the process to make sure it is in conformance (such as with LPAs)
  8. Verify your preparedness and response plan using a back-to-work checklist and incorporating LPA into this plan, to focus on new requirements around cleaning, disinfection and social distancing

Consider whether you might need add people or steps to properly verify processes.  Things to review include:

  • Customer requirements regarding special containment activities (think GP-12, Safe Launch, etc.).
  • unintended consequences from any process changes.
  • Potential risks you might be introducing in your new startup process. For example, if you add an inspection step and move parts to be inspected elsewhere, you need to consider whether they could become damaged, mixed or out of order.

This is just a starting point for how you to use downtime to improve your manufacturing process. In any improvement initiative, make sure to take the time to look at processes retrospectively, as well as consider what needs to be done for a smooth restart. Taking time to think strategically now will help you hit the ground running at startup.

Download our free COVID-19 audit checklists to help make sure your plant floor operates safely during your restart.