Two buzzwords in the A&D supply chain lexicon these days are APQP and PPAP (namely Advanced Product Quality Planning and Production Part Approval Process). This terminology is met with some excitement, both the enthusiastic and nervous kind. Understandably, it’s a culture shift in manufacturing that’s made incredible strides for the automobile industry and is an embedded methodology that the automobile supply chain can’t live without.
Boeing and Airbus have recently both mandated that their supply chains get ready for APQP/PPAP to the AS9145 standard, but is their supply base ready, willing, and able to dive in?
I sat down with Shana Deering of Verify, Inc.. Shana is a longtime APQP/PPAP Integrator and Subject Matter Expert who is currently teaching courses developed by Verify to support those A&D companies that have bought in but now need to get started. I wanted to understand more about this culture shift and why it makes sense for the industry.
Hank: What are the compelling reasons for a customer/supplier to implement APQP/PPAP?
Shana: Well, the history stems from the car industry and how the American automakers wanted to compete with the Japanese because their poor quality was killing them. The Japanese had made great progress in Quality and other manufacturers were starting to examine their own practices, to help them compete.
Fast forward 25 to 30 years post implementation; they are competing now. So that’s an obvious reason right there. It works.
You definitely see a compressed time to market, the pillars of APQP require that you do collaborative concurrent engineering, so people work together for the same goal, and as you’re working together, you’re going to get things done faster and more efficiently. Quality is going to improve and processes are going to be smoother, resulting in a better production launch. Everyone is using their efforts to the same end.
At the time the American auto industry adopted APQP/PPAP, time to market was around 7 years, from concept to launch. Recent studies suggest the average time to market is now around 18 to 20 months. When you put that into perspective, the competitive edge sells itself.
Hank: So there’s a direct correlation between implementing PPAP and shortening time to market?
Shana: Absolutely! It’s not just a buzzword, it’s a real change to the culture of your business. As long as you can get everyone together working towards the same goals… you know that’s your winning formula.
Hank: So understanding that it has a lot to do with a cultural systematic change (shift) in the organization, what would you say are some of the biggest challenges of initiating that change?
Shana: Well change is hard. Change is expensive. Change requires commitment and it doesn’t just mean commitment at the top, it means your whole business. When you have a large company, that change is going to be slower. Small businesses are a little more agile, they can adapt quicker. Still… trying to adopt the principles of APQP is challenging, it’s worth it, but the commitment has to be there.
Hank: Would you say that once an organization has begun their implementation of APQP it gets easier? Or does that difficulty level remain throughout?
Shana: I would say it depends on where you are in that process. When you look at what it takes to set this up, it’s a daunting task. The leadership is going to see what they need to implement this kind of change; then, they will see the dollar signs. They see the resource constraints, you will likely see bottlenecks now in places where you didn’t have them before because you are trying to work “tools” that were not part of your process before APQP. We used to be able to just launch this product and get it out but now we’ve got all these tools. But what might be overlooked in the midst of that kind of change is that you’re basically deconstructing your products and your processes to a degree that you probably didn’t understand before. The end result is that once you work through these tools, you get to a place where you have corrected the quality issues and you’re sending out good parts on time.
But, you have to want this.
You know it’s like therapy, its hard and its intense and you have to go through the steps if you want to be better.
Hank: How long would you say it takes to see the benefits or ROI of implementation?
Shana: What I teach in my class is that it’s directly proportional to your commitment, and support.
So when we first launched it at a previous employer within the US A&D marketplace, it was very difficult in the beginning. We didn’t know what we were doing, we just did it using the tools that we had learned in our six sigma classes. But after learning to do things the “APQP” way, we discovered that our Six Sigma tools were great but it just didn’t have the “stuff” that we needed. We needed more a robust structure, because you’re putting people together who have never used these kinds of tools and getting people together who really didn’t know those parts. So we needed a common language to help put everyone involved with the process on an equal footing. You’re trying to lead people and you have to have a very structured methodical approach to get the pertinent information in place. It can be very difficult to facilitate these kinds of sessions if you don’t have standard methods.
But I will say that once you have that information in place and everybody on the same page, the next one is that much faster. Working these tools over and over you essentially create a library of knowledge that you can build from. You can almost pick it up from the shelf and say, “Hey, I need this one for reference!” You’ve done all of this work and end up with a product or a process that you’ve done a very thorough risk assessment on and now you can use it for your next one. So, eventually, the APQP process will get much faster. It may take Aerospace a while to get there because the culture just doesn’t support that type of approach, yet.
Hank: What guidance or advice would you provide ahead of making the decision to implement APQP/PPAP?
Shana: I would start by knowing what your goals for APQP are – know your expectations and those of your customers, because the change, the managing your culture – those expectations are going to be key. Leadership must be committed to going from point A to point B and making sure it’s a realistic goal. Then, you have to set up achievable milestones to set your business up for success.
Consider the alternative of just saying, “I’m just going to launch this, I’m going to put this in the supply chain, I’m going to put this in my next contract and think we’re going to win.” It doesn’t work very well that way. That approach can set you up for failure.
You’ve got to be very strategic about how you want this to affect your business because if you determine to globally launch APQP across your business, you’ll cripple yourself. You’ve got to plan and put processes and systems in place in a very measured fashion.
Hank: When you teach a class, what has been the sort of overarching message that has been most important to your clients
Shana: So that would depend on who’s in the class. For people on the shop floor they need to understand what their role is compared (and concurrent) with engineering, procurement, etc. That’s really the message to everyone. Not just the concept but where do I fit into the whole process and what do I need to understand about the APQP methodology? When we go through it in class, that’s the part that seems to be the most eye opening to them. They see that they have a piece of the process and that it’s not just leadership flowing it down. Everyone who is part of the product life cycle owns this process. They have just as much ownership in the success and or failure as anyone else in the organization. So, to me, that’s what I would want everyone to come away with — is that you do fit in this process and you do need to understand it.
Hank: What kind of personality traits lend themselves to success in this implementation?
Shana: So they have to kind of be a visionary, they have to understand and appreciate the power and effectiveness that’s associated with these tools – the information that you can glean from this process. It is very powerful because now you have an understanding of your product, your process, your machines, and your people that you never had before! So what are you going to do with it? A visionary is someone who can harness and channel this information and find ways to move it forward for the success of the company.
Hank: When you were working at your previous employer within the US A&D marketplace what was the first real difference that you noticed this process made?
Shana: When we were working through our first “project”, …I remember our first DFMEA (Note – Design Failure Mode and Effect Analysis), we brought the supplier in to work it with us as a “partner”. We worked DFMEAs the way we were taught as Six Sigma Black belts. It wasn’t until we had received training from people in the automotive industry that we actually did these the way they are intended within APQP. There are a lot of additional tools that we learned to use as prerequisites to the DFMEA that helped us as a team to extract specific information. These tools helped to ensure that we were not biased in our FMEA – which gave us more meaningful information.
When we did our first DFMEA the “APQP” way, our supplier was so engaged and enlightened about how their manufacturing processes impacted our design. It was truly a “Aha” moment! We showed them how to use our prerequisite DFMEA tools, the block diagram, interface matrix, P-Diagrams and stuff like that… and the supplier was like, “How come we didn’t know this? We should have known this because we would have made sure that this was corrected in our process. I can now see how important this is!”
We should have come together like this in the beginning because when we flowed down these requirements the supplier just saw a piece of paper for a design and didn’t really see it in its context. How could they truly understand what we wanted? They knew they were making a bearing, but they didn’t understand it was a critical part and some of the features that they controlled were impacting the interfaces that went into the assemblies.
Hank: It sounds like this process can sometimes alleviate some of the contentions that exist between customer and supplier? Would you say that’s true?
Shana: Absolutely! We truly had an open door, two-way communication method after that. We would just call them up or they would just call us up anytime! And once we completed the Process Flow Diagrams and our PFMEAs with them we would go to their facilities, and helped them put the control plans in place. We were working through the tools with them – side-by-side — and when we saw that the defects had been reduced by more than 50% at this supplier… well that to me just showed that collaboratively, we had really made a difference – so that sense of shared accomplishment goes a long way to building a successful customer/supplier relationship
Hank: Did you have some suppliers that pushed back and didn’t want any part of it?
Shana: Yes! Absolutely!
Hank: And how did you guys handle that? Were you in a position to strong arm that a little?
Shana: Yes, in most situations, we were. However, we worked with some of the suppliers who did not want to “partner” with us and trained them to work the APQP tools. That way, we could still flow this requirement down to them. They just chose not to “partner” with us.
Hank: Did you have your company employees actually go to the suppliers and help them with this process implementation?
Shana: Yes we did! That was what my team did! Tiger team style and we would go to the suppliers in pairs or more, because you need a couple of different views. Actually it wasn’t just us on the team we would pull our manufacturing engineers, our tooling guys, we had some procurement people, and we, of course, had our design engineers participate, as well. You can just imagine how expensive that is when your sending all these people to a problem supplier. But, because of the great results and relationships that we established during this process, it was (in my opinion) money well-spent!
Hank: Shana thank you for taking the time to provide your insights and industry experience.
Shana Deering is an APQP/PPAP Subject Matter Expert and trainer for Verify Inc. Shana has over 15 years’ experience in A&D and the initiation of these processes for the supply chain.
For more information on APQP/PPAP in the Aerospace and Defense supply chain please contact: