A funny thing about APQP—that's "advanced product quality planning"—if there can be anything amusing about the always-serious subject of quality, is found in the description of the book—that should be considered The Book—on the subject that is found on the Auto Industry Action Group's website (aiag.org). For the second edition of the Advanced Product Quality Planning manual, it says:
The APQP manual provides general guidelines for ensuring the Advanced Product Quality Planning is implemented in accordance with the requirements of the customer. It does not give specific instructions on how to arrive at each APQP or Control Plan entry. These guidelines are intended to cover most situations that can normally occur in the early planning or design phases, or during process analysis. Questions about these guidelines should be directed to your authorized customer representative.
And in the "Product Information" section it says, simply, and in whole, The benefits of the APQP or Control Plan would be a reduction in the complexity of products quality planning for the customers and organizations, and a means for organizations to easily communicate product quality planning requirements to suppliers.
While we won't quibble about how easily this communicates things ("products quality planning for the customers and organizations" doesn't exactly sound, well, like it was originally written in English), the point here is to further emphasize the point about APQP: It is all about the customer. If you don't get that right, then you're not going to get anything right.
APQP methodology is a result of work that was done during the 1980s by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. It is now codified. It is often required. It is an approach that facilitates registration to ISO/TS 16949. It is a method that encompasses more acronyms than a government bureaucracy. As in:
- FMEA: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis
- PPAP: Production Part Approval Process
- SPC: Statistical Process Control
- MSA: Measurement Systems Analysis
APQP and the rest are all part of what AIAG describes as "North American Automotive Quality Core Tools." And, yes, there is certification available for any and all.
And if you get further into the study of APQP you will discover that there are a few more related acronyms, including:
- QFD: Quality Functional Deployment
- VA: Value Analysis
- FAST: Function Analysis System Technique
From a macro point of view, APQP and its associated processes help assure that what is being developed is worthwhile (the QFD is important here), and that what is being prepared for production will be producible not only from the standpoint of one's capabilities and resources, but in terms of consistent quality (PPAP and SPC have roles here).
What basically occurs is that for each step in the product development program there are specific steps that should be taken, with deliverables from each step. So, for example, during the Planning phase, it is important that things like design goals are defined and that there are preliminary assessments of the BOM and the BOP (bill of materials and bill of processes). Then as it moves toward the point of production, there needs to be validations of everything from the product to the process, which means that there must be methods by which there is assurance that the product will be produced in a quality, assured manner.
One of the problems that can arise without APQP is that not all parties—OEMs and suppliers—are on the same page. Meaning: Without the strict codification of approaches and expectations, things can be misinterpreted, which can lead to a variety of problems in everything from concept to execution.
Still, one cannot overlook the importance of the customer—the customer as in the people in the market who are going to be buying the product. While there is much to be said for APQP and its associated practices, companies that are focused on (1) the needs of the end customer—the true needs, not those that are assumed to be so—and (2) a collaborative work approach with all concerned parties, are going to be the ones who are most successful in the market. And while Launch may be the last area of key concern for APQP, sales are what ultimately matter.