Using Automotive Manufacturing Process Audits to Focus on Value and Maximize Improvements


Automotive Manufacturing Process Audits: What They Are and How To Maximize Improvements

A manufacturing process audit is an audit of the manufacturing (and manufacturing support) activities.  According to IATF 16949® section this audit must include all manufacturing shifts, include evidence of shift handover, and include APQP output such as FMEAs and Control Plans. 

Many Customer Specific Requirements (CSRs) include additional requirements for the process audits (one example is the FCA CSR requiring LPAs).  The CSRs may require Layered Process Audits (LPA-for reference see AIAG CQI-8), Error Proofing Audits, Special Process Audits (CQI audits), Control Plan Audits, and New Launch Audits.  It is critical to consult the customer’s CSRs and ensure compliance with the requirements.

The 3 Most Common Process Audits CQI, LPA, and APQP

CQI Audits:

One of the most prevalent manufacturing process audits identified in CSRs include CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement) audits.  These audits are typically annual audits performed by the organization (or can also be a component of a customer audit).  CQI audit requirements and checklists can be obtained at the AIAG website (  More common CQI audits include:

  • Heat Treating – CQI-9 Special Process: Heat Treat System Assessment
  • Plating – CQI-11 Special Process: Plating System Assessment
  • Coating – CQI-12 Special Process: Coating System Assessment
  • Welding – CQI-15 Special Process: Welding System Assessment
  • Soldering – CQI-17 Special Process: Soldering System Assessment
  • Molding – CQI-23: Special Process: Molding System Assessment
  • Casting – CQI-27: Special Process: Casting System Assessment

Performing an annual CQI audit to review specific manufacturing processes can provide significant benefits to the organization.  The CQI audit checklist is a comprehensive approach to reviewing the specific process, including supports for the process.  The CQI approach also requires the auditor to be competent in the processes being audited, which should also add value.  The output of the CQI audit is summarized to indicate the area audited, the audit team and any non-conformances identified.  The summary page is of particular interest to your customer.  The customer, in most cases, will want to see evidence the CQI audit has been performed annually.  Typically, the customer (as well as your certification body auditor) will ask to see the summary page for the particular year, as well as any corrective actions resulting from the non-conformances identified.  Remember, retain the records of the CQI audits as you would any other audit record.  Also, if you are not comfortable performing your own CQI audits, you can outsource the audits to a certified and experienced second party like simpleQuE.

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Layered Process Audit:

Another prevalent manufacturing process audit identified in customer CSRs is the LPA (Layered Process Audit).  The LPA is a scheduled audit activity that includes all management LAYERS of the organization.  Most LPAs are scheduled either by shift or by day and includes all level of management; according to whatever process the customer identifies within the CSR document.  For instance, FCA’s CSR states: “9.2.2 Layered Process Audits–Organizations supplying production parts or components to FCA US shall conduct Layered Process Audits (LPA) on all elements of manufacturing and assembly lines that produce production parts or components for FCA US. These shall include both Process Control Audits (PCA) and Error Proofing Verification (EPV) audits”.

The LPA approach typically schedules each manufacturing area/process with line level management on a frequent basis (by shift or day), mid-level management on a less frequent basis (day or week) and top level management on an even less frequent basis (weekly or monthly)—again, according to the requirements of the CSR.

The main objective of an LPA is to use a common checklist of questions and line side conditions to ensure all levels of management are reviewing the same topics and acting as a cross check throughout the organization.  Actions taken for LPA issues may be immediate fixes for smaller issues to systemic changes and improvements for the more damaging issues.  Metrics, such as LPA schedule compliance, repeating issues identified, effectiveness of actions taken, and overall process robustness provide good input into the management review activity to focus actions and resources specifically where needed.

The LPA can add a tremendous amount of value by identifying process discrepancies (for example, each shift performing processes their unique way instead of using the standardized approach to processing), identifying effectiveness of corrective actions taken for processing issues, identifying resource needs (for example, reviewing how well new employees or temps are performing the work), and identifying other weaknesses within the process.

APQP Output Audit:

If your customers’ CSR document does not require a specific manufacturing process audit, the organization may want to consider using the APQP output for lineside process audits (process flow diagrams, control plans, PFMEAs, work instructions, etc.). 

Like all audits, the APQP Output audits should be scheduled and conducted by qualified auditors.  These audits also need to include all shifts and evidence of shift handoff reviews.  The frequency and focus of the lineside audits can be based upon performance of the process, risk associated with the process, internal metrics and KPIs (for instance, high scrap areas), a focus upon special characteristics, or other factors.

Records of the APQP output audit should be retained and actions taken for audit issues identified.  Audit records may be the actual documents used to perform the audit (i.e.: notes on the control plan, FMEA, Work Instruction, etc.).    One of the main benefits of an APQP Output audit is the ability to focus on a specific process/area and improve known weaknesses or high-risk activities.

Conducting A Successful IATF® Audit

Whatever method is employed to conduct the manufacturing process audits, ensure an extensive and effective audit is conducted.  A robust audit will help ensure a good return on the time and efforts invested into that process audit.  Ensure the auditors are competent and know how to conduct the audit.  Most importantly, ensure the organization takes good systemic corrective actions to prevent issues from recurring.  A good manufacturing process audit system is one of the best drivers of continuous improvement within the automotive supply chain.

We Can Help: IATF 16949® Experts a Click Away

If you’re searching for an IATF 16949:2016 consultant, our team at simpleQuE is well-positioned to support your IATF 16949® and MAQMSR consulting (Minimum Automotive Quality Management System Requirements), certification, maintenance, training and internal auditing needs. Our consultants are qualified, certified, and are experts on the automotive standards, customer-specific requirements, and AIAG or VDA core tools. In addition, many are current or former 3rd party auditors who bring valuable insight because of the knowledge gained from auditing for certification bodies.

SimpleQuE also offers a full line-up of IATF 16949 training courses which includes AIAG and VDA Core Tools, Root Cause Analysis and Problem Solving, Requirements and Implementation.  With IATF® also putting a major focus on internal auditor competency, it is essential to have IATF 16949® Internal Auditor Training. Our IATF 16949® auditor training utilizes the process audit approach. Contact Our IATF® consultants to learn more about the customized services offered to match your certification and training needs.

Obtaining and maintaining IATF 16949®, and meeting all of the related Customer Specific Requirements (CSRs), is difficult, which is why we’ve created free IATF 16949® tools, checklists and resources for your use

IATF 16949® 4-Part Series

This is the second of a four part series of IATF 16949® articles written by simpleQuE consultant and auditor, Bob Dornhecker.*  With over 35 years of combined experience in auditing, manufacturing and certification, Bob has an extensive quality background.  Additionally, he has taught and facilitated many quality related training classes for clients and has provided support to companies securing their own ISO/Quality Management Systems certifications.  He also conducts ISO 9001 and IATF 16949® 2nd and 3rd party audits.

*Links to the other articles in this automotive series:

SimpleQuE is not associated with the IATF®, IAOB, ANAB®, IAQG®, and is not a certification body. SimpleQuE is an independent consulting, training, and second-party auditing service provider that assists a company on a path for the company to obtain and maintain certification through accredited certification bodies.

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