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    What is APQP? A Strong NPI (New Product Introduction) Approach

    Most Chinese manufacturers go through the NPI New Product Introduction process reluctantly. Their objectives are usually as follows:

    • Get a nice-looking sample in the customer’s hands so he feels warm and fuzzy and accepts to send us a deposit and an order.
    • Address the customer’s requirements in terms of functions, safety, etc.
    • Get it done quickly so production can start soon.

    This makes sense when expected volumes are low. Indeed, it makes no sense to spend a lot of engineering time on a product that will not generate significant business.

    However, when a product is almost certainly going to be produced in the hundreds of thousands or in the millions, a “let’s get it done quickly” approach is self destructive. In fact, it is akin to accumulating a large debt to be paid over the coming years.

    The reason is, the factory will probably discover all types of issues and will have to deal with them at the worst time – when mass production is under way. Any quality issue might generate a large loss (for example by scrapping expensive material) and long delays.

     

    What is APQP and why it is such a great approach to NPI?

    Let’s look at the current best practice in industry: the APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning) process. Since auto manufacturers know they will purchase millions of pieces of the same components, they force their suppliers to apply this process – whether they manufacture metal, plastic, glass, electronics, textile, leather, etc.

    (Auto makers also have a process for ensuring suppliers follow the Advanced Product Quality Planning – it is the “PPAP”, which we won’t cover here – it is an excellent way for a customer to ensure suppliers follow good NPI practices.)

    The Advanced Product Quality Planning was successfully implemented far and wide in other industries. It requires heavy involvement of designers, process engineers, quality engineers, and manufacturing staff, but gives excellent results.

    As you can see in the graph below, there are 5 milestones:

    1. Concept initiation/approval (significant planning work);
    2. Program approval (detailed design work);
    3. Prototype (along with detailed design & engineering work);
    4. Pilot run (a small batch, on the same materials and through the same processes & equipment as mass production, over and over until the rate reaches the rate planned for mass production);
    5. Production launch and further adjustments which should, by that time, be relatively limited.

     

    The Advanced Product Quality Planning Process

    The Advanced Product Quality Planning Process

     

    How is this useful to most companies?

    Again, following the Advanced Product Quality Planning is only a suggestion. This is what the best companies do when it comes to NPI (New Product Introduction).

    You might skip the MSA (Measurement System Analysis), for instance, if you think the impact of biases, repeatability & reproducibility issues, etc. is minimal in your production. And, if you don’t do MSA, you might as well forget about SPC (Statistical Process Control).

    I mean that, if you only have a certain budget and a certain time window for your NPI efforts, it makes sense to skip a few steps. However, be aware that each shortcut will reduce your ability to prevent issues in mass production! 

    What have your experiences been with NPI? How do you reduce risks for small series? And for large orders that count in the hundreds or thousands? Do Chinese manufacturers respond well to that approach in your industry?

     

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