Supporting Lean Manufacturing With Digital Photographic Internal Audits

Visual management has been and will continue to be a key driver in the manufacturing world. Lean principles are predicated on visual activities. 5S — the building block of all lean activities — is based on the motto, "A place for everything and everything in its place." Cellular manufacturing focuses on isolating machinery and tools within an area of the plant in order to increase efficiency. Alarms, flashing lights and other poka-yoke techniques are visual assurances of compliance in work cells.

Audit

Visual management has been and will continue to be a key driver in the manufacturing world. Lean principles are predicated on visual activities. 5S — the building block of all lean activities — is based on the motto, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Cellular manufacturing focuses on isolating machinery and tools within an area of the plant in order to increase efficiency. Alarms, flashing lights and other poka-yoke techniques are visual assurances of compliance in work cells.

It’s time to bring this visual approach to how we determine the effectiveness of our manufacturing processes. Digital photographic internal audits are the perfect complement to today’s visual management tools. Photographic auditing does not mean just inserting a few pictures within an audit report. The pictures are your report. Digital photos are easily stored, shared and incorporated in training presentations as well as work instructions.

This approach will ensure plant-wide participation and create a renewed focus throughout your organization. It will expand “ownership” and understanding of your processes to every person in your company. People might even want to be on your audit team.

However, is this auditing technique compliant with ISO? You bet. Here is the requirement from ISO 9001:2000 that subtly encourages you to be creative: “The audit criteria, scope, frequency and methods shall be defined.” Any registrar who cannot see the value of a fresh, visual approach should be replaced. How much more training will your auditors need? If they can point and shoot a camera, they’ll be in good shape.

Conduct your audit. Perform your audit on the whole plant, and be sure all processes are included. It may take your auditors a full day, but the review will be complete. Besides, who knows where the auditor’s trail may lead them. Can you really say you subscribe to the “process approach,” yet not have all areas prepared to cooperate with your auditors?

Take pictures of both the positive and the negative observations on your audit trail. If the nonconformance is incorrect paperwork, shoot it. If the issue is equipment that is out of calibration, take it. If the concern is a process that is inconsistent with a defined procedure, snap it. When your team comes across an area with exemplary housekeeping, take the picture. Audits are not only about nonconformances; take pictures to reinforce the positive things. These images can become your visual reference standard.

Your photographs will facilitate the creation of your final audit report. The picture will tell you what happened. There will be no need to rely on memory or poorly written notes of an issue that occurred a few hours ago. The photo will tell the story. The key is to have a visual reference with a short description of the issue to discuss with your people.

You will still need to reference the standard as the basis of your identified nonconformance. Maintain your notes and the checklists that helped you prepare your picture report. This is the detail that you will have for customer and registrar review.

Review and resolve. Review the audit results first with the managers who typically attend the closing meetings. Proceed from there by conducting additional reviews with plant personnel. Involve your entire organization. Maybe reviews by cell or by department would be the most effective way to proceed. People will love seeing their work in pictures. Be sure to preface your comments with the fact that it is the process that you are focused on, not the people.

There is no better first step to resolution than to show pictures of the issue; it will engage your people. You will hear many “why” questions from all attendees of the review session. These inquiries from the participants are keys to resolving the immediate issue and to addressing similar issues. So, you are not only resolving the corrective action for the issue, but you are also educating the people involved—the first step to long-term preventive actions.

The role of your people is to understand the problem and to be active participants in defining an effective corrective action. The quality contact for each department can facilitate the disciplined problem-solving process and supporting paperwork. It is another great chance for people to step away from their jobs and to work on continuous improvement.

An old proverb states, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Photographs are universally understandable. They are a fresh visual representation of the good and the bad. In this multilingual world, visual evidence will call attention to improvement opportunities that written words may not properly convey, no matter how well the audit report is written. Issues identified within a visual context can best be solved by a group of people, no matter what language those people speak. Digitally photographed audits will provide immediate results in the improvement of your lean processes.