The automotive industry's Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) process has always looked good on paper. But that has been one of the problems. The process -- developed in 1994 by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) as a systematic product introduction process -- has always required the exchange of lots of paper documents among supply chain partners.

Now an AIAG committee known as e-APQP is wrapping up a project that will ease the paper burden. By Sept. 30, the committee expects to complete development of a common electronic format for the exchange of documents found in the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) manual. The new format is based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard. It will enable suppliers and automotive OEMs to exchange PPAP documents electronically, regardless of which vendor's Advanced Quality Planning software they are using, says John Casey, e-APQP committee chairman.

"This will create tremendous productivity savings," Casey says. He expects that around 14 software vendors that are part of the e-APQP effort will convert their software to accommodate the XML standard by about yearend. Pilot electronic exchange projects could begin by next year's first quarter, with formal OEM conversion to the standard before yearend 2003.