How To Audit Your Machine Shop Improvements

Here are a few practical approaches for auditing your manufacturing initiatives.


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Often, companies do some pretty impressive things that make their operations better. Unfortunately, in too many situations, these impressive initiatives fade out. The improvements start to wither and the gains eventually disappear. It happens in more cases than we’d like to admit. Why?

We can point to many possible reasons, such as changing priorities, excessive effort required to sustain improvements, limited resource availability and more. Yet what is at the heart of these failures is often a lack of follow-up or willingness to audit the changes made.

Unfortunately, the word “audit” conjures up visions of extensive reviews and multi-page reports that put everyone on edge. But audits do not have to be overly complicated; they are simply a comparison between what is supposed to be happening and what is actually happening. The audit can be as easy as reviewing a key process metric and comparing actual results to planned results. If the comparison is favorable, that can be the end of the audit. If the comparison is not favorable, then action needs to be taken — but that is a good thing if you are truly committed to continuous improvement.

person performing audit at desk

Auditing a manufacturing initiative is as simple as comparing the results at the time of implementation with current results. 

Here are three ideas for auditing your process improvements:

Auditing Workplace Organization

If you have invested time in improving the organization of a specific workplace, you want to be sure the organization is sustained (one of the elements of the 5S system of workplace organization). An audit should consist of a comparison of the workplace condition currently to the condition achieved immediately after the improvement was made. This comparison can be done using posted photographs of the well-organized condition; a numerical score on a list of organization-related questions (for example, “Are all tools stored in properly identified locations after use?”); or even a brief observation of workers in the area to see how much time they spend searching or waiting for what they need. Any of these auditing techniques can be completed pretty quickly and provide an indication of whether the workplace organization effort made things permanently better.

Auditing Production

Among the most obvious ways of auditing such an improvement is with a performance tracking metric. If time per workpiece data was available for the former process, then it’s just a matter of comparing this to the time per workpiece for the current process. Color coding (green = good, red = bad) can provide an effective visual for this comparison, as can charts (up = good, down = bad). The idea is to be able to determine the effectiveness of the new process at a glance on a regular basis. In the event these results are not as expected, the first thing to do is to verify that the new process is being followed. Too often, we find the reason for not achieving expected results is not that the new approach is bad, but that it is not being followed as planned.

Auditing Administrative Throughput

If you have taken steps to improve any type of administrative process, such as order entry, accounts receivable, purchase order processing, customer returns, and so on, you will want to know if the throughput time (overall time from receipt to completion) has been reduced. The easiest way to audit such a process is through a review of inputs, outputs and backlogs. In very simple terms, inputs - outputs = backlog. An improved process should reduce the average backlog over time, barring unforeseen spikes in inputs. Therefore, the major focus for an audit is the backlog number, whether it be customer orders received but yet not entered, open orders or dollars to be collected from customers, purchase orders to be placed with vendors, or customer returns received but not yet processed.

An accurate accounting of a backlog requires a means of knowing what was received and what was processed. Whereas any ERP system can capture what was processed as this is “seen” by the system, calculating what was received may require a little effort to count what came in each day. Once input is captured, the point-in-time backlog is a simple calculation. Unusual spikes or dips in the backlog may warrant further investigation, but for the most part, a regular audit of the backlog should provide sufficient information about whether an improved process really is better.

Your willingness to audit the improvements made in your organization is a great indicator for how those improvements will stick long term.