As a manufacturer looking to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies, one of the expected benefits is increased visibility into your processes and available data leading to improved operational performance, resilience, and overall intelligence. Parlay this improved awareness into better customer satisfaction – through higher product quality and performance.Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is a proven methodology that already helps manufacturers to accomplish this objective. This process data can be quite valuable to provide insights on future product development, quality trends and how to extend a product’s useful life. For these reasons, best-in-class manufacturers incorporate APQP with their Digital Thread strategy.
In the Aerospace & Defense (A&D) industry, APQP can be used as the basis of compliance with the AS9145 quality standard, which is now becoming a contractual requirement on many new projects. Utilizing APQP will ultimately help achieve a higher standard of quality across the value chain, including within your supplier quality management (SQM) program.
What makes APQP so important is that it provides a framework for focusing on product quality early in the design process and includes the perspective of how production processes affect final component quality. For any manufacturer with an Industry 4.0 initiative, APQP provides a key source of data to the digital thread.
APQP is a 5 Phase Process and Embodies a Continuous Improvement Loop
APQP’s purpose is identifying potential areas of failure and pre-planning quality to support any weaknesses. The process starts with the planning and definition of your overall quality program that is associated with any new product introduction. Once the program has been defined, the second phase is where actual product design occurs. Here is where any preproduction product analysis, such as product performance simulation and modeling as well as failure analysis of both design and process, is performed.
These next phases encompass Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), a methodology to ensure compliance of parts and associated changes throughout the value chain. In the third phase, the focus is on the verification of both the design and production processes used to produce the part, like a First Article Inspection. The fourth phase begins with a trial run and is where the production control plan is released and monitored. This control plan will define the quality standards and verification methods to be employed throughout the build. Final quality process control plans are then implemented, and production commences. The fifth phase is full production and includes the feedback loop where any corrective actions on either product design or process-related issues are dealt with.
The Output of the APQP Process is Best Shared Across the Value Chain
For the APQP process to yield results, there must be a mechanism to ensure that both the supplier and the customer utilize the results of this effort. PPAP is the mechanism to do that. It should be obvious that all activities, including the simulation and modeling efforts of the product and process design, the verification phases, and the corrective action feedback loops rely on digital technology. A common digital thread makes a big difference in your being able to do this efficiently and accurately. If every activity operates independently, then the risk of introducing errors into the system defeats the entire purpose of the APQP process.
APQP is the Backbone of Your Digital Thread
The importance of managing product development and manufacturing activities has always been important. Identifying possible issues early in the New Product Introduction process saves time, money, and resources. APQP in the digital age means that the information and intelligence that is generated must now be stored in a digital medium. And it must be shared to extract the greatest value for your organization. APQP is transitioning to the backbone of your digital thread in that it provides the framework for future product life cycle data to be built upon. The way you use your Industry 4.0 digital thread determines how easy it will be to produce that finished product with the greatest quality and most cost-effective production process. This makes the MES a critical element in your APQP efforts and a part of your overall quality management system (QMS).
Kim Archibald has more than a decade of Aerospace & Defense manufacturing experience, gained while working at Boeing Defense, Lockheed Martin, and space startup Virgin Orbit. As a frequent speaker, Kim leverages her industry expertise to help manufacturers navigate their digital transformation journey. She is currently Head of Solution Engineering at iBASEt.