Software Drives Quality for Auto Suppliers

APQP software helps carmakers document how suppliers design and deliver parts.

Quality has been job 1 for top automakers for more than a decade, as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG try to reduce outlays for warranties and improve customer satisfaction. Now those OEMs are making quality just as important for the component makers that supply auto parts.

Much of this effort is centered on APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning), a process for documenting how suppliers design and deliver components. Software developers including Aras Corp. and Powerway Inc. have been rolling out applications to automate the gathering and distribution of that documentation.

The APQP process takes outsourcing beyond simply requiring a supplier to provide a component that matches a specification. It adds the monitoring of how and when a component is created and delivered to the OEM, thus speeding the supply chain and new-product introduction by ensuring that the OEM and supplier are working on the same schedules.

"Now, instead of delivering just to a specification, the OEM also tells [a supplier] how to design and tool up their factory," said Peter Schroer, chief technology officer at Aras, in Lawrence, Mass. "And they say, Were going to monitor you over three years so we know you are completing the project the way we want. Whats new is [the OEMs] are enforcing APQP."

Aras late last month began shipping its APQP Plus software, which automates the collection of APQP documents, provides a framework for managing APQP compliance projects and integrates with Aras namesake PLM (product lifecycle management) software.

The new software includes templates for APQP and the Production Part Approval Process auto industry standard. An additional four applications in the suite enable users to manage production, sourcing, other quality issues and tooling. Together, these applications provide document management, engineering change management and cost accounting capabilities.

Indianapolis-based Powerway in March released Version 2.0 of its Web-based APQP software. The upgrade, which is being used by GM and DaimlerChrysler, features enhanced navigation capabilities, additional language support and a new activity log.

Freudenberg-NOK GP, which makes molded rubber components for automobiles, uses Aras APQP Plus mainly for project management and design management, according to Tom Gill, director of CAE technology and support.

Use of APQP "has been mandatory, but we had been using manual processes," said Gill in Bristol, N.H. "Aras has allowed us to automate a lot of that. We also used this as an opportunity to standardize our processes [among Freudenbergs offices]."

APQP is called a phase-and-gate process, meaning that when suppliers have complied with one step in the process, they can go to the next step. The steps, which cover stages from request for quote to the start of production, are based on several quality standards, including QS 9000.

Freudenberg has broken its APQP compliance into five phases encompassing 60 major steps, Gill said. The phases are quote, product design, process design, validation and launch.

The company, based in Plymouth, Mich., has deployed the Aras APQP software at about 20 sites. By documenting every relevant part of the system, administrators managing the rollout of products have been able to use their time more effectively, Gill said.

"Its improved communication but cut down on meetings," Gill said. "The meetings were used to gather information and disseminate it. Now the project manager can audit [a project] for quality as opposed to dragging information out of people."

Enabling APQP Plus or similar systems to exchange data with PLM systems chosen by the OEMs will probably take some integration work, Gill said, but thats to be expected. "Historically, they pick the systems that work for them, and suppliers adapt," he said.

In deploying collaboration tools such as APQP Plus, integration of the technology is only one hurdle."The culture is the hard part," Gill said. "The software is not the hard part; changing the culture to become more strategic is. Some employees are using the software as intended, [and] that almost came as a surprise—that they are not seeing it as a burden, that they are changing their processes because of the software."

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