All You Need to Know About APQP: Definition, Steps and Benefits

In the competitive world of business, quality isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Quality failures can ruin a business’ reputation quickly and comprehensively – and that makes the introduction of new products or any significant changes to existing ones a particularly delicate process. Advanced Product Quality Planning was developed in the automotive industry, but it has relevance to the successful planning, production, and release of just about any product.

What is Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP)?

A complex process can be easily defined, and APQP falls into this category. It consists of procedures that govern product development, and its aim is to create a product quality plan that ensures customer satisfaction.

The Advanced Product Quality Planning concept is very nearly related to Design for Six Sigma (DFSS). It was first implemented by General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford, but is now used in a wide variety of industries.

APQP objectives are at the heart of the process and should be kept firmly in view. To ensure customer satisfaction, companies implementing Advanced Product Quality Planning will strive to:

  • Develop a framework that allows for effective communications between the internal departments and external suppliers who will implement the plan.
  • Reach a defined set of goals in a timely manner.
  • Reduce risks associated with the launch of a new product by ensuring that there are few or no quality problems.

APQP is implemented from the very beginning of any product development process. Before the product design is even finalized, the APQP program is planned and defined. Once the product’s design is in place, the production processes will also be designed, developed and validated, and the resulting product will also require validation.

Since the entire process aims to eliminate any problems before the product ever reaches the client, a final assessment will search for issues so that the company can take corrective action. However, APQP doesn’t end there. Any glitches or hiccups are also addressed after the release of the product onto the market.

5 Phases of the Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) Process

Before we move on to the benefits of Advanced Product Quality Planning, we need to take a closer look at the steps in the process to gain a better understanding of what it entails.

1. Define and Plan the Program

Fulfilling customer expectations requires an understanding of what these expectations are. Thus, design and product reliability goals come first. Now, it’s possible to formulate a preliminary bill of materials needed as well as a draft process flow chart that shows how the inputs will be transformed into outputs. Next, it’s important to define the product and process characteristics which in turn gives rise to a product assurance plan. And since management support is essential, the roles and responsibilities of management must also be determined.

Suppliers will have a crucial role to play, and they can consider this portion of the process as being similar to Design and Development Planning and Design Input as specified in QS-9000.

2. Designing and Developing the Product

To meet the goal of customer satisfaction, the company assembles a team to carry out a Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (DFMEA) to see what can go wrong and what the effect would be. The design and engineering specifications are also verified and reviewed in detail before a prototype plan can be finalized. If necessary, the design and its specifications may be adjusted.

Meanwhile, the Advanced Product Quality Planning Team is looking at the equipment and tooling that will be needed. It will define key product and process characteristics while considering and deciding on the testing requirements that will be used for quality verification. Staffing requirements and management support are also on the agenda.

3. Aligning Manufacturing Processes for Customer Satisfaction

After reviewing the product and process quality system, the AQPQ team now focuses its attention on the elements that must be in place for productivity, efficiency, and uniform quality, all of which have a role to play in customer satisfaction.

Process design includes such activities as providing a floor plan layout, process flow charts, and a characteristics matrix – and since processes can fail just as designs can, they will carry out a Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (PFMEA). Process instructions and a measurement system analysis plans are formulated, the capability of processes is studied, and packaging standards and specifications are drawn up.

4. Finally, it’s Time for Product and Process Validation

Now that everything is working well on paper, its time to see whether the process and product work as well as planned in the real world. This begins with a production trial run. The production team implements the predetermined processes and measurement systems, and if all goes well in the final analysis, the product, its components, packaging, and all the accompanying control plans can receive final approval.

5. Assessment and Corrective Action

Few plans, even the ones you’ve tested numerous times, will be without room for improvement. Once production begins in earnest, there are almost sure to be small issues that can be corrected or improved. Quality depends on the ability to produce predictably uniform products, and customer satisfaction, the goal of the whole of the process, will be an indicator that points towards any changes or improvements that must still be made.

If there’s a marked need for corrective action, the entire process, or parts of it can be repeated, allowing for product changes that will meet client expectations.

Benefits of Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP)?

By looking through the steps involved in APQP, you probably have a good idea of why it’s useful to use for your business. However, capturing them in a list helps us to fully grasp just why APQP is so helpful:

  • The process keeps customer satisfaction at the core of its activities. Ultimately, resources are directed with the specific intention of fulfilling customer needs.
  • Introducing a product becomes a carefully tested and validated process, limiting the number of changes that must be made (and fires to put out) after the product has been released onto the market.
  • When faced with an urgent problem, the solution implemented may be the quickest, but not necessarily the most cost-effective one. By pre-empting quality problems and firmly establishing client expectations, the process gives planners time to look for cost-effective solutions before the product is launched.
  • By implementing APQP, the company mitigates the risks inherent in introducing or modifying a product.
  • Design and process specialists work together. This ensures that there is no miscommunication between them and that processes will fulfill the requirements of the design.
  • Suppliers can be briefed in accordance with APQP guidelines and specifications. They, therefore, know exactly what is required, and how quality will be measured.
  • Manufacturing and assembly processes are carefully aligned with design specifications, limiting variation, promoting efficiency, and ensuring quality.
  • Finally, APQP is a process of continuous improvement that doesn’t end once the company begins to produce and distribute a product. Feedback is received, and corrective action is taken.

A Complex Process Well Worth Undertaking

It’s clear that APQP can’t be undertaken without a multidisciplinary team. By working together, sharing information and giving the benefit of their expertise, designers, engineers, production specialists, suppliers, and managers work together to achieve a single goal: customer satisfaction.

In the process, the team will generate a lot of vital documentation: process flows, quality standards, and quality control measures must all be captured. In addition, there’s the all-important feedback step that allows the project team to fine-tune and improve production and service and deliver even greater customer satisfaction. Needless to say, changes will have a knock-on effect, and related workflows may also need to be revisited.

Back in the day, this would have meant revisiting the entire process to determine where the impact of changes would be felt and how they would affect the people, departments, managers, and supplier organizations involved in the production. Today, however, it’s a lot more common to employ workflow management software to make the whole process easier and more effective. The software helps digitize your processes, track them in real-time, and make improvements based on data.

With or without software, however, simply by applying the basic principles of APQP, you’ll eliminate most of the guesswork and risk inherent in the introduction of a new product, or the modification of an existing one.

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