With so many manufacturers focusing on operational excellence and global competition a given, it is not surprising that quality has become a critical control point. Manufacturers have variously deployed quality control (QC), quality management (QM) and/or quality assurance (QA), or product assurance (PA) in complex discrete manufacturing to drive quality throughout their operations. This leads many manufacturers with a question: Which program is best for my business? The problem is that many manufacturers do not understand the differences and how all three elements interact to drive a dynamic, comprehensive ecosystem quality management system (EQMS) program.
Learn more in this article, It’s Time to Redefine the “E” in EQMS
Quality Control No Longer Just Inspecting for Defects
QC has its roots in the industrial revolution and was popularized post WWII with the growth of statistical quality control (SQC) which utilized statistical sampling methods to drive the inspection of products to ensure they conformed to their specifications. Today quality control has broadened to include all aspects of ensuring the product is produced without imperfections. Methods range from full or sample inspection to non-destructive testing. The key aspect of quality control is that it is about ensuring conformance to customer specifications.
Product or Quality Assurance is About Proactively Building Quality into Products
PA/QA goes beyond QC by becoming part of the process during both product design as well as the manufacturing operations that will produce the product. QA activities embody more than testing/inspection plans to include tools to monitor and measure quality, proper design standards to ensure manufacturability, and the training to operations staff to ensure they know how to produce the product to the quality standards that have been defined. QA is about preventing flaws from occurring while QC is about detecting them if they do and preventing flawed product from leaving (or entering) the plant. In many respects QA is proactive while QC is reactive. Another important aspect of QA is that it looks up the value chain to make sure incoming materials are flawless themselves as well.
With ISO 9001 / AS9100 Quality Management Comes to the Forefront
With the introduction of the International Standards Organization’s ISO 9001 family of quality management principles in the late 1980’s and AS9100 standard for automotive and aerospace in the 1990’s, the term Quality Management System became the way to describe the entire spectrum of quality functions related to producing goods and services. Interestingly, the origins of these standards can be traced back to US and British military procurement quality assurance standards. The many iterations of both standards have continued to dictate requirements in all three quality areas. Hence, the confusion many have about how QA, QC and QM all relate to each other.
Today, using digitalization to drive quality across an entire value chain is the trend, even being promoted by major business consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company. They report productivity gains related to optimized QC of up to 50%-100%, QA gains of 25-40% and even first-pass-yield (FPY) improvements of 20-30% across several companies in advanced industries. Building out a plant operations MES and quality platform that helps you manage all aspects of quality, QC, QA and EQMS, puts you in a position to achieve comparable gains.