Quality Control vs Quality Assurance: What’s the Difference?

Written by Peter Keszegh

Because there are so many players in today’s fast-moving business landscape, one of the ways business owners can stand out from everyone else is to focus on the quality of their products. You might have heard of the terms quality control and quality assurance, but what do they mean and how do they differ?

In this article, we’ll talk about the differences between quality control vs quality assurance, what exactly they mean for business owners, and how you can incorporate these in your business strategy and operations.

Man at Work in Cheese Manufacturing

What is quality control?

Quality control refers to inspecting and regulating production processes, identifying defects in the finished products, and making sure these defects don’t reach the customer.

Not only do quality control measures help businesses maintain their internal quality standards and customer satisfaction, they also help businesses comply with regulatory standards and safety protocols.

Components of quality control

There are a lot of parts that make up a robust quality control system. Here are some of the areas quality control measures focus on:

  • Inspection and testing: This ensures that materials, processes, and products meet established quality criteria.
  • Feedback loops: These focus on collecting data and analyzing defects to inform businesses on the ways they can adjust and improve their production processes.
  • Statistical process control (SPC): This refers to the use of statistical techniques to monitor and control the quality of products and services.

Incorporating quality control into production

It’s important for businesses to focus on quality control in different stages of production. Here are some of the stages where quality control is relevant for businesses:

  • Raw material inspection: This entails inspecting raw materials as soon as businesses receive them from suppliers or other sources, to make sure they meet quality specifications even before they enter production.
  • In-process inspection: This refers to the specific checkpoints during the manufacturing process where inspection can identify and correct issues early on in production.
  • Final product testing: This refers to thoroughly testing the final product to make sure it meets all quality, safety, and performance standards before it reaches the customer.
  • Continuous improvement: It’s also crucial for businesses to make sure they have continuous quality control improvement cycles to facilitate ongoing enhancements in production.
Yellow Parts on Production Line

What is quality assurance?

Compared to quality control, which refers to reactive processes, quality assurance refers to proactive approaches focused on preventing defects in products by making sure production and operational processes are conducted correctly.

If quality control focuses on making sure materials and the end products meet quality standards, quality assurance is about making sure the right processes are in place to create quality products.

Quality assurance in the product life cycle

For businesses, quality assurance measures should be implemented in various stages of the product life cycle. Here are the certain stages where quality assurance is relevant:

  • Conceptualizing and planning: Quality assurance is already involved in the initial stages of conceptualizing products, to make sure quality requirements are already clearly defined and align with customer needs.
  • Design and development: During prototyping and testing, quality assurance ensures that design and functionality tests are carried out according to predefined quality standards.
  • Production and implementation: Quality assurance measures help validate production processes to confirm that these can produce products that meet quality standards. This stage also involves performing quality audits of suppliers.
  • Product release and distribution: Quality assurance measures help guarantee that products are released into the market only after meeting quality standards. This also refers to preventing quality issues from happening during distribution, when products are stored and transported.
  • Post-market monitoring: Even after the product is launched and distributed, businesses should monitor customer feedback and handle complaints. Customer feedback can help businesses identify the root causes of quality issues, and to make sure processes are improved so they don’t happen again.
  • Continuous improvement: Quality assurance helps continuously monitor metrics and conduct performance analysis to identify areas for improvement throughout production.
Men Looking at a Piece of Wood

Differences between quality control vs quality assurance

While both quality control and quality assurance are important for businesses, understanding their differences can get tricky, and it’s common for people to use these terms interchangeably.

Here’s a deeper dive into the differences between quality control vs quality assurance:

Approach and focus

As mentioned earlier, quality control deals with reactive approaches that focus on inspecting defects in the final products.

Quality assurance deals with proactive approaches that focus more on processes and systems. This makes sure processes are properly followed to create quality products.

Goals and objectives

Jumping off the previous item, quality control deals with making sure the final product meets quality standards.

Quality assurance focuses on ensuring compliance with standards and regulations, improving customer satisfaction, and facilitating continuous improvement in various processes.

Specific operations and activities

Quality control typically focuses on inspecting raw materials, testing phases, and post-production results.

Quality assurance activities span the entire product life cycle, from conceptualization and design to product delivery.

Impact on quality culture

Both quality control and quality assurance help uphold a business’ commitment to quality. 

Quality control helps guarantee that products consistently meet quality standards, while quality assurance’s focus on processes and continuous improvement reinforce a business’ strong quality culture.

Hands of Weaver Manufacturing Table Runner on Loom

Quality control, quality assurance in business operations

Quality control and quality assurance both provide concrete benefits when it comes to improving business operations. Here are some of the specific ways quality control and quality assurance can improve your business:

Ensuring compliance

In certain industries such as healthcare and food productions, there are industry-wide standards that businesses must absolutely comply with. Quality control and quality assurance measures help businesses follow these regulatory standards, which ensures safety and avoids potential fines and product recalls.

Avoiding costs

Quality control and quality assurance can help identify issues and defects early on in the production cycle, which can save businesses a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on wasted materials or legal hurdles.

Improving customer satisfaction and loyalty

Of course, if your business commits to making sure your products are always of good quality, this will motivate customers to keep purchasing them. Once customers notice a dip in the quality of your products, you can lose customers and sales.

Driving business improvements

If you have the right quality control and quality assurance measures in place, your business will be able to efficiently identify areas of improvement that could otherwise impact the quality of your products.

Measures for quality control and quality assurance are not only important for meeting industry and safety standards and keeping customers happy, they’ll also help your business stay competitive in today’s dynamic markets.

People Sitting at the Table

Business strategies: Quality control and quality assurance

Incorporating quality control and quality assurance in your business operations goes beyond making sure your end products and production processes comply with regulatory standards. Your team should be embracing your commitment to quality as a strategy that informs every decision your business makes.

Here are some ways you can put quality control and quality assurance at the forefront of your business strategy:

Develop a comprehensive quality management plan

Quality control and quality assurance cannot be afterthoughts or processes that are independent of every other part of your business. You need to prioritize quality in every aspect of your business, and your business can do this by creating a detailed quality management plan.

Make sure to include the following in your quality management plan:

  • An outline of the quality objectives that align with your overall business goals
  • The processes and standards that will help your business meet these quality objectives
  • Key metrics for measuring quality performance
  • Roles and responsibilities within your team for ensuring accountabilities related to quality control and quality assurance

Include in training and company culture

Your commitment to quality should be a core part of your company’s culture. Encourage a mindset where quality is a responsibility of every team in your business, not just of the quality control and quality assurance teams.

You may also provide regular training for your team on quality standards and the importance of quality management, so they have a better understanding of why ensuring quality is a core value of your business.

Use technology

Invest in relevant technology such as quality management software that can make your quality control and quality assurance workflows more efficient. This kind of software can also help automate certain processes and provide real-time data analysis, making it easier for you to guarantee quality in production.

Continuously monitor and improve

It should be an integral part of your company culture to always identify areas for ongoing improvement. Always go back to your key quality metrics and set up feedback mechanisms for your business that can point out areas for improvement when it comes to quality control and quality assurance.

Close-up of Woman Making Handmade Candles in Workshop

Quality control and assurance for small businesses

Focusing on quality control and quality assurance might be feasible for larger businesses and companies that have the manpower and resources at their disposal. But ensuring quality is also just as important for small businesses, which may not have the same resources that larger businesses enjoy.

Here are some ways small businesses can incorporate quality control and quality assurance in their own little ways:

Start with a plan

Small businesses can still create quality management plans, albeit on a smaller scale that takes their resources into consideration. Start by defining what quality means for your small business, and identify key quality objectives that you want to achieve.

Get your team involved

If you’re running a small business, you might not have dedicated teams that primarily focus on quality control or quality assurance. This is why it’s important that everyone in your team focuses on maintaining quality standards, and understands the importance of prioritizing quality.

Monitor and measure

Even small businesses can conduct regular quality checks to make sure their products meet the necessary standards. Always go back to your key quality objectives, and set quantifiable metrics you can use to measure the quality of your end products and production processes.

Be wise with suppliers

If your business relies on materials from suppliers, make sure to do your research and assess the quality of your suppliers’ resources. Don’t be afraid to ask for quotes and sample products.

Prioritize customers

Feedback from customers will help you improve the quality of your products or your production processes. Regularly gather feedback from your customers via surveys or informal conversations, and make sure you use this feedback to improve your products and overall business operations.

Adapt and improve

Make sure to regularly monitor your workflows so you can identify issues or areas of improvement early on. You should also monitor any relevant market shifts and stay updated with your customers’ needs, so that your products can address these and continuously improve.

Quality control and quality assurance isn’t just for bigger companies – small business owners can make sure they prioritize quality and produce excellent products in their own ways.

Person With Clipboard in Warehouse

Measuring quality control and quality assurance

Now you’ve got your quality control and quality assurance process in place, but how exactly do you measure the quality of your products and operational processes?

Here are some metrics you can consider when it comes to quality control and quality assurance:

Defect density

This refers to the number of defects discovered in a product or process in relation to its size. Defect density will help you identify the specific issues and areas that need to be addressed and improved.

For instance, if you notice that a particular product has about one defect for every batch of 10, that’s a sign that there’s something wrong in either the materials used or the processes involved in making that product.

First pass yield (FPY)

This metric measures the percentage of products that are produced correctly and meet the necessary quality standards on the first try, without rework. 

A high first pass yield means your processes are efficient and are producing high-quality results. A low first pass yield means there’s something in your current processes that needs to be fixed so you can produce high-quality products.

Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)

You can also measure the quality of your products depending on how happy your customers are with them. Customer satisfaction scores are typically gathered via customer feedback surveys. 

Return rate

If you allow product returns, you might want to look into which products are frequently returned and why customers are returning them. If a certain product has a high return rate, that means customers are dissatisfied with your product, or that there’s an issue with the quality of that product.

Cost of quality (CoQ)

You might want to consider measuring the financial impact of your quality control and quality assurance processes and related costs. Cost of quality looks at the total cost of these measures and quality deficiencies.

Cost of quality is often divided into four categories:

  • Prevention costs: These refer to the costs associated with preventing product defects.
  • Appraisal costs: These refer to the costs for evaluating end products or the materials used in production.
  • Internal failure costs: These refer to the costs incurred in defective products that were found before you delivered your products.
  • External failure costs: These refer to the costs incurred in defective products that were found after you delivered your products.
Man Working on a Production Line

Final thoughts: Quality control vs quality assurance

Prioritizing quality control and quality assurance in your business is more than just ticking boxes and meeting minimum standards – it’s important that everyone in your business understands the importance of quality management, and how it can benefit your business as well as your customers.

Understanding the differences between quality control vs quality assurance and setting up quality management measures will help your business stay competitive and efficient. A good business understands how quality can make or break their reputation and their internal workflows, and how it can make you successful!

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