While price and positive experiences remain the leading factors in brands’ abilities to keep customers satisfied, quality also plays a critical role. According to research firm PWC, 52 percent of U.S. consumers would consider switching from one brand to another based on product quality. The result? It’s critical for companies to create policies and processes that allow them to effectively evaluate quality, identify potential problems and make meaningful changes — and it starts with quality assurance inspections.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Quality Assurance?
Quality assurance (QA) refers to the set of policies and procedures that help manage and improve the development and production of a service or product. QA methodologies are implemented by businesses to ensure current processes are working as intended and identify areas where improvements are required.
What is Quality Control?
Quality control (QC) examines the end results of processes that deliver finished products or services to determine if they meet current quality expectations. If problems are identified, quality inspectors trace these issues back to their source and reduce the risk of further low-quality production.
How do Quality Assurance and Control Differ?
While both QA/QC focus on quality, they target different aspects of the production process. Quality control inspection prioritizes the identification of defects or deficiencies in the end result — manufactured products that come off the line but don’t live up to expectations. Quality assurance, meanwhile, focuses on identifying issues within production processes themselves and remediating these issues to produce a more reliable end result. In other words, while QC focuses on the ends, QA targets the means.
Consider a QC pre-shipment inspection that finds 5 percent of all products coming off the line have a functional deficiency. Along with disposing of these products so they’re not sold to customers, QC inspectors may also create policies that ensure mandatory testing of all products for the identified deficiency, in turn reducing the risk that a poor-quality final product will leave the factory.
QA inspections, meanwhile, look to find the root cause of conformance deficiency by examining all the processes in product production. Once identified, QA teams can take steps to remove or remediate this process so the end result — a defective product — doesn’t occur.
Why do QA Inspections Matter?
Quality Assurance Inspections provide a way for companies to pinpoint issues in current processes that negatively impact product quality, in turn making it possible to address and eliminate these issues. These inspections have a significant overlap with 6S efforts that look to streamline operations by ensuring production line machinery is safely accessible from workstations and these workstations are clean and tidy.
Take the example of a workstation that lacks direct access to specific parts necessary for production. If staff must regularly leave their station to obtain these parts, this may lead to a gap in observability that in turn leads to failed QC checks. If this problem is identified during a QA inspection, however, it can be addressed and remediated at the point of origin.
How-to: Conducting a Quality Assurance Inspection
So how do you conduct a quality assurance inspection? Three components are critical:
- Clear objectives
First, companies must define clear objectives for QA inspections: What manufacturing processes are inspectors evaluating, and what is the goal of these inspections? Are there standard operating procedures (SOPs) that apply to these processes?
- Stated specifications
Next, businesses must determine how they will measure the impact and efficacy of current processes: What metrics will be used to determine success or failure? Here, it’s often useful to create ideal quality standards that speak to how processes should perform and then compare observed data to these samples.
- Actionable results
Finally, organizations must identify actionable results for QA data. What corrective actions will be taken to avoid QA issues moving forward, and how will this impact be measured? It’s also important to conduct regular follow-ups after quality audits to ensure that any changes made have had the desired effect.
Armed with objectives, specifications, and results, QA inspectors can effectively evaluate processes, determine their impact on production, and (if necessary) make adjustments to improve overall output. Also worth noting? Documentation is key for all aspects of effective QA. By leveraging quality management systems (QMS) that include Quality Assurance Inspections checklists and templates and making it possible to centralize QA inspection reports and findings, businesses can better apply new policies at scale and reduce the risk of duplicate data that leads to additional time, effort, and cost.
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