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The 5 Phases of APQP: An Overview of Key Requirements
Listening to the voice of the customer is what Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is all about. Having a clear understanding of what customers want, need, and expect in a product and then planning accordingly will ensure customer product expectations are met in every way.

Even if you have a quality management system in place, APQP is worth the effort, especially if you are in the business of manufacturing new or improved products. Production processes often have inherent risks, such as process failures. Following the APQP process can help minimize these risks. In turn, risk management leads to greater quality control and business success.

A Background Byte

During the late ’80s, APQP programs were in use by major players in the automotive industry. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler all had an APQP deployment and saw the need to come together to create a common core of product quality-planning principles for suppliers. Because supply chains are important in automotive manufacturing, the intent was to make sure supplier partners met customer quality requirements for each component supplied.

Guidelines were established in the early ’90s to ensure APQP protocols were followed in a standardized format. Since then, APQP has gained momentum and has sparked interest among manufacturers in many industries.

5 Phases of APQP: The Nuts and Bolts

What does APQP entail?

According to the American Society for Quality, Automotive Division, APQP is a structured process that includes critical tasks from concept approval through production. The aim is to create a product quality plan for developing and manufacturing products that meet customer requirements.

This planning uses a five-phase process:

  1. Product Planning and Quality Program Definition
  2. Product Design and Development
  3. Process Design and Development
  4. Validation of Product and Process
  5. Production Launch, Assessment, and Improvement

Let’s examine each of these phases in more detail.

APQP Phase 1: Planning and Program Definition

When customer demands require the introduction of a new product or an overhaul of an existing one, preliminary planning becomes front and center, even before discussions of product design or redesign. In this APQP phase, planning is directed at understanding the customer’s needs and product expectations.

Planning activities include gathering necessary data to define what the customer wants and then using the information to hash out product characteristics. The quality program needed to create the product as specified can then be defined. The output of this work includes product design, reliability, and quality goals.

APQP Phase 2: Product Design and Development

Completing product design is the focus of this phase. This is also where a product feasibility assessment comes into play.

Resulting outcomes from work in this phase include:

  • Completed design review and verification
  • Defined material specifications and equipment requirements
  • Completed design failure mode and effect analysis to assess failure probabilities
  • Established control plans for product prototype creation

APQP Phase 3: Designing and Developing the Process for Product Manufacture

This phase focuses on planning the manufacturing process that will produce the new or improved product. The goal is to design and develop the production process while keeping product specifications, product quality, and production costs in mind. The process must be able to produce the quantities needed to meet expected consumer demand while maintaining efficiency.

Examples of outcomes in this phase include:

  • A completed process flow configuration
  • A completed process failure mode and effect analysis to identify and deal with risks
  • Operational process quality specifications
  • Product finishing and packaging requirements

APQP Phase 4: Validating the Process and the Product

This is the test phase for validating the manufacturing process and the final product.

Steps in this phase include:

  • Confirming capability and reliability of the manufacturing process and product quality acceptance criteria.
  • Performing production trial runs
  • Testing product output to confirm the effectiveness of the deployed manufacturing approach
  • Reconciling needed adjustments before moving to the next phase

APQP Phase 5: Launch, Assessments, and Continual Improvement

The full-scale production launch occurs in this phase, with emphasis on evaluating and improving processes. Mainstays in this phase include reducing process variations, identifying issues, and starting corrective actions to support continual improvement, as well as collecting and assessing customer feedback and data related to process efficiency and quality planning effectiveness.

Typical outcomes include:

  • An improved manufacturing process through reduction in process variations
  • Improved quality of product delivery and customer service
  • Improved customer satisfaction

APQP provides a structure for planning, defining, and completing necessary activities to produce products that are on-target for customer needs and expectations. The program requires the use of standard quality tools, such as FMEA, SPC, PPAP, and comprehensive control plans for effectiveness.

For manufacturers, the incentive for using an APQP is the potential to achieve a successful product launch in which product and process risks are minimized and competitiveness is improved.