Automakers Shift Manual Into Another Gear

Collaborative effort yields revised edition of APQP

By R. Dan Reid

The Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) published the second edition of the Advanced Product Quality Planning and Control Plan Reference Manual this summer.1

Developed and copyrighted by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors (GM) and first released more than 14 years ago, the manual, generally known as APQP, has stood the test of time.

APQP evolves

Work on harmonized quality system requirements for the Big Three automakers’rs original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) was initiated after a June 1988 ASQ Automotive Division Conference where the purchasing VPs for these companies met with interested suppliers to discuss quality improvement and cost reduction initiatives.

A Big Three task force was formed to lead the work. Before that, there had been no publications on automotive quality bearing the logo of more than one company.

The task force charter was humble in the beginning. VP direction was to keep it small and focused and not spend a lot of money. The first deliverable about one year later was a common-parts submission warrant for use in the companies’ parts qualification processes.

More ambitious undertakings followed. In 1990, the Measurement Systems Analysis Reference Manual, using the GM manual as a baseline, was released. It became the first quality manual to bear Chrysler, Ford and GM logos on the cover. In 1992, the Statistical Process Control Reference Manual, patterned after the Ford manual, was released. The Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) manual followed in 1993 and was the first harmonized requirements manual for the Big Three.

The supplier community, which had asked for such harmonized requirements even before the 1988 ASQ conference, was surprised and pleased. Suppliers demanded more, leading to several other projects: potential failure mode effects analysis (FMEA), control planning, APQP and QS-9000 (the automotive sector-specific version of ISO 9001, also released in 1994).

APQP conceived

At the time, the automotive industry had come through more than a decade of increased competition led by offshore OEMs and the advent of market-based pricing. Companies needed to provide higher quality products more than ever, but now at reduced prices. The days of routinely passing on cost increases to the final automotive customer were coming to an end.

To be competitive, companies also had to churn out new products with shorter development cycles, a requirement that is even more urgent today. Annual model-year changeovers were being supplemented with mid-year enhancements. Fundamental change was in full swing.

Chrysler, Ford and GM had new-vehicle development processes to respond more effectively to these market demands. These involved cross-functional teams, each performing tasks in a prescribed timeframe ahead of the new vehicle launch.

Program timing was becoming sacred. Timing for various tasks was based on an analysis of the lead times required for each task and subsequent tasks in the vehicle development process, all calculated from the production start date for the new model.

These were—and are—complex processes involving many people, including tier-one suppliers. But suppliers did not have a common tier-one new-product development process to support the OEM processes until APQP.

Today, the need to bring new products to market fast is even more urgent as rising oil prices have created a fundamental shift in customer preferences from large trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles to ones that are smaller and fuel-efficient.

The task force formed an APQP team from the OEMs and several key suppliers. This was the first project in which an existing OEM manual was not used as a baseline for the harmonized manual. This team began with a clean sheet.

The team started with the plan-do-check-act cycle, popularized by W. Edwards Deming. Automotive understanding of fundamental quality management science promoted by Deming, Joseph M. Juran and others had evolved from a quality control base in the 1950s to capability, control and improvement.

The team reached consensus on the general phases of product quality planning for the document:

  • Planning, including technology and concept development.
  • Product design and development.
  • Process design and development.
  • Product and process verification.
  • Production.
  • Feedback assessment, corrective action and improvement.

None of these was new to the OEMs, but there was perceived value in having consensus on the terms, definitions, sequence and interaction of the tasks for common use throughout the supply chain.

In recent years, the importance of technology planning and development has significantly increased. OEMs face new regulatory requirements globally for fuel economy and emissions in the next decade. Existing technology will need to be enhanced to effectively and efficiently meet these requirements.

As the work on the initial projects began to wind down, the task force decided to merge the output of a separate control plan group into the APQP manual because the control plan is a key deliverable of the APQP process.

APQP born

The stated purpose of both editions of the APQP manual is to communicate guidelines developed by Chrysler, Ford and GM to the supply chain. These guidelines are designed to produce a product-quality plan that will support the development of a product or service that will satisfy the customer.

The manual lists the phases of a vehicle program in a graphic organized as a never-ending cycle. This is to illustrate that in pursuit of continuous improvement, the lessons learned in one new vehicle program must be applied to subsequent programs.

The manual also shows how product quality planning can be applied to various types of tier-one suppliers—for example, those with design and manufacturing responsibility, those with only manufacturing responsibility or service suppliers, such as warehousers or heat treaters.

The manual briefly describes each phase of the APQP process and its inputs and outputs. The most valuable APQP contributions are the control plan examples for various types of processes and the checklists introduced in the supplemental sections. The checklists were designed to prompt team discussion around key considerations in developing such things as design and process FMEAs, new capital equipment and tooling, floor plans, process flow charts and control plans.

Control plan

The APQP manual introduces a common control plan template. It provides for part and process characteristic management.2 Key enhancements were the fields for indicating whether the control plan is applicable for prototype, prelaunch or production. Up to that time, the primary application of the control plan had been only the production phase.

The big innovation at the time was the inclusion of the reaction plan on the control plan form. This continues in the new edition.

Typically, work instructions list the requirements of a job performed at a particular work station. What they often do not include is guidance for the worker on what to do when things go wrong.

This section of the template was intended to drive proactive consideration of what could go wrong and predetermine appropriate actions to mitigate the potential problems. It can be a reference to a work instruction or procedure for corrective action as necessary or applicable.

Control plan examples were provided for various types of processes, including those that are:

  • Setup dominant.
  • Tooling dominant.
  • Operator dominant.
  • Material or component dominant.
  • Preventive maintenance dominant.
  • Climate dominant.

As you can imagine, the type of controls needed and applicable for each of these can vary substantially.

Suppliers quickly integrated the APQP method after the 1994 release. APQP, project management expertise and product design capability are areas in which the domestic supply chain excels compared to their emerging-market counterparts.

Jobs have been going to the emerging-market suppliers for several years now based on their much lower cost structure, but these suppliers have not had the years of experience working with OEMs in bringing new products to market. APQP is one of the tools the emerging-market suppliers will need to integrate to successfully meet future program timing, cost and quality requirements.

What’s new in APQP

The new APQP manual officially replaced the first edition Nov. 1. Like the last edition of the AIAG PPAP manual and the upcoming revision to ISO 9001, this revision is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary change to the original document.

The revision substitutes references to QS-9000 with its replacement, ISO TS/16949. It combines the packaging standards and specifications sections from chapter three of the first edition and adds a new section on effective use of lessons learned and best practices to chapter five.

The Ford-specific sections on dimensional and dynamic control plans have been eliminated, along with the appendices for special characteristic symbols, acronyms and blank forms. The bibliography in appendix J has been moved to the end of the new appendix B on analytical techniques.

No changes have been made to the control plan template or graphics for the product quality planning cycle and timing charts. There are significantly more pages in the new edition because it uses a page layout similar to QS-9000—for example, more white space on the left margin instead of the full-page layout of the original.

APQP continues to be a reference manual—a set of guidelines rather than a requirements manual, such as PPAP. Some paragraphs, such as 1.13, management support, and 4.4, production part approval, have been slightly revised with no major change in intent. Other paragraphs have new guidance, for example:

  • 3.4, floor plan layout, includes optimization of material travel and handling, and value-added use of floor space to support lean manufacturing.
  • 3.7, prelaunch control plan, includes identification of error-proofing devices.
  • 3.9, measurement systems analysis plan, now lists the inclusion of a laboratory scope.
  • Appendix B, mistake proofing/error-proofing, contains amplification of how it should be used instead of providing only a definition of the term.

Paragraph 4.8, quality planning sign-off and management support, has been enhanced with the inclusion of the process flowcharts and demonstration of required capacity as part of the sign-off process.

Opportunities for improvement

The directions pertaining to the control plan for special characteristics (chapter six, item 21) does not indicate that any special characteristics identified by the supplier should be included, as they should be.

One unfortunate change to all the checklists is the addition of a column titled “N/A.” This could be incorrectly interpreted to mean any or all of the checklist items can be not applicable. In my view, this is a giant step backward from the original version. The guidance provided in “purpose of the checklists” does not mention “N/A” as an optional response for each checklist question, but some explanation of the proper use of these new sections would seem to be appropriate.

Some deletions of original APQP checklist questions also represent steps backward. These include:

  • Appendix A-7, process FMEA checklist: a question about actions taken for all high-severity and high-risk priority numbers.
  • A-8, control plan checklist: a question regarding use of known customer concerns as input in identification of special characteristics.
  • A-2, design information checklist: a question about identification of the “dimensions that can affect fit, form, function and durability.”

Changes in the new edition are generally helpful, and clearly the core content and intent from the original APQP manual are intact.


  1. Advanced Product Quality Planning and Control Plan Reference Manual, Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., 2008, p. 1.
  2. R. Dan Reid, “Characteristics Management,” Quality Progress, November 2003.

R. DAN REID, an ASQ fellow and certified quality engineer, is a purchasing manager at General Motors Powertrain. He is co-author of ISO/TS 16949; the Chrysler, Ford, GM APQP, PPAP and potential FMEA manuals; ISO 9001:2000; ISO IWA 1; and AIAG’s new Business Operating Systems for Health Care Organizations.

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