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APQP Software - Not Just for Document Creation

Gregory F. Gruska, President, The Third Generation, Inc. and Donald Cherry, Director Marketing, Omnex Systems

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Historically, Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) software has been purchased by quality managers to reduce the time spent creating APQP related documentation.The goal was to get the documents to your customers in the format that the customers' required and have a documentation trail that would survive an audit.In the past twelve months, the marketplace seems to be changing, and more and more engineering directors are seeing the value of FMEAs and Control Plans and are using them in the management of their design and manufacturing processes by examining and then attempting to control various failure events in their products and processes before the failures arise, rather than creating products that meet minimum specifications and letting the service and warranty departments handle the quality issues.


Advanced Product Quality Planning is a structured product lifecycle management (PLM) approach to defining and establishing the steps necessary to assure that a product (or service) satisfies the customer. It starts at the concept stage with product development and continues through production implementation and continual improvement. The APQP Reference Manual appeared on the scene in June 1994, published by the Supplier Quality Requirements Task Force as one of the harmonized reference manuals, procedures, reporting formats and technical nomenclature used by Chrysler (now DCX), Ford and General Motors. This harmonization effort lead to QS-9000 and eventually to ISO/TS 16949:2009.

The APQP Reference Manual, which combined the PLM approaches and requirements of the OEMs and participating suppliers, utilizes the PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act) improvement cycle. The purpose of the Product Quality Planning Cycle is "to emphasize:

  • Up-front planning. The first three quarters of the cycle are devoted to up-front product quality planning through product/process validation.
  • The act of implementation. The fourth quarter is the stage where the importance of evaluating the output serves two functions: to determine if customers are satisfied and to support the pursuit of continual improvement.

Even thought the intent of APQP is to focus on continual improvement and process knowledge management, the actual implementation focus, more often than not, was on compliance: i.e., filling out the forms. The reasons for this are varied: from the fact that QS-9000 was built around ISO 9001:1994, which was element-based rather than process-based; to the fact that many QS consultants and training offerings were retreads of the element-based ISO consulting and training; to fact that many supplier just wanted to know what was the minimal effort needed to continue selling to the automotive industry.

With the publication of ISO/TS 16949:2009, things have begun to change. ISO/TS 16949:2009 is based on ISO 9001:2008,which utilizes a process-based quality management system model. This is more in line with the PDSA cycle that underlies APQP. Organizations with mature quality management systems are now starting to utilize APQP as intended as a prevention and risk management approach.

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