Advanced Product Quality Planning

APQP - Ensuring a Successful Product Launch

It is important for companies, especially those that collaborate and source components to a large variety of supply partners, to develop and maintain a Supplier Quality Management System (SQMS) so that they can meet customer expectations on quality, delivery, cost, and reliability. A Supplier Quality Management System enables a company to work closely with its supply base to ensure product requirements and expectations are clearly understood and that supply partners share and act with a common sense of urgency that the end customers demand. This idea seems simple in theory, but due to the growing complexity of product features, execution may pose challenges, especially prior to product launch, if not approached using a structured method with clear tasks and deliverables. This issue ultimately led to the birth of the APQP process.

Advanced Product Quality Planning 

APQP is a structured framework that supports the development of a product that will satisfy and even exceed the end customer’s requirements and ensure a successful product launch or product design change. APQP serves as a guiding beacon throughout the entire quality planning process that takes place before the product is designed, manufactured, and shipped to the customer. It’s ultimate goal is to ensure a product launch or product re-design meets it’s required timeline, cost, and quality targets that are developed in the initial planning stage. APQP was originally designed by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) to provide a consistent process for all companies in the Automotive industry to follow to ensure product launch success but has now expanded into other industries including Aerospace, Defense, Consumer Products, and Medical Devices.

The first three of its five phases are devoted to preliminary planning, product design, and manufacturing process design. The fourth phase includes the trial production runs, data collection and the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). The fifth phase is for assessment and for making any production changes that are necessary or that would improve the product in terms of quality, delivery, cost, and reliability. The main purpose of APQP is to ensure that your company and your supply partners understand and are able to consistently meet the customer requirements from a Quality, Delivery, Cost, and Reliability perspective by anticipating and preventing problems in advance of start of production. Phases 1 to 4 in the APQP process tend to be more tactical but fundamentally essential in a successful product launch. As a company matures in its journey of improving this overall procedure, there tends to be a stronger focus on the Feedback, Assessment, and Correct Action phase. Actively pursuing Phase 5 is the key to rising above the status quo and standing out among the competition. Phase 5 provides a structured process that allows companies to actively accomplish continuous improvement initiatives to refine the product launch process and improve speed to market.

5 Phases of APQP:

1) Plan & Define program

  • Design goals
  • Reliability goals
  • Preliminary bill of material creation
  • Preliminary process flow chart
  • Preliminary listing of special product and process characteristics
  • Product assurance plan
  • Management support

2) Product design & development

  • Design failure mode and effects analysis
  • Design for manufacturing and assembly
  • Design verification
  • Design reviews
  • Prototype build-control plan
  • Engineering drawings (including math data)
  • Engineering specifications
  • Drawing and specification changes

3) Process design & development

  • Packaging standards
  • Product/process quality system review
  • Floor plan layout
  • Process flow chart
  • Characteristics matrix
  • PFMEA (process failure mode effects analysis)
  • Pre-launch control plan
  • Process instructions
  • Measurement system analysis plan
  • Preliminary process capability study plan
  • Packaging specifications
  • Management support

4) Product & Process Validation (Includes PPAP)

  • Production trial run
  • Measurement systems evaluation
  • Preliminary process capability study
  • Production Part Approval (PPAP)
  • Production validation testing
  • Packaging evaluation
  • Production control plan
  • Quality planning sign-off and management support

5) Feedback, Assessment, and Corrective Action

  • Reduced variation
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Documentation and service

Adopting an APQP Process

Implementing and following APQP is critical when keeping your product launch team on track to meet timeline goals and mitigate risk of product quality defects. Although APQP is most commonly used in the Automotive industry, companies across all industries are rapidly adopting this process and making it a standard procedure. Companies that follow a common APQP process are standing out in their competitive industries by embracing the ability to be agile as customer demand changes become more rapid. Also, from an end customer perspective, superior product quality is has now evolved into a standard, not just an added bonus, so your company’s targets and processes need to reflect the customer expectation. One of the first stages of the lean manufacturing process is to first structure every activity, so it can then be measured, analyzed, and improved. APQP fully embraces this methodology from a product quality standpoint by providing structure to your quality improvement activities and drive consistency in your product offerings. Your organization has a higher probability of achieving success and consistently offering great products to market if you embrace APQP in your product launch process.