Quality assurance vs. quality control: Understanding the differences

July 19, 2023

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To ensure that your hardware products remain of high quality and valuable in the market, you should consider two critical processes: quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA). These are imperative, especially in fields with rigid regulations and complex manufacturing processes, such as aerospace, medical or healthcare technology.

Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are distinct and serve different purposes for improving quality. Below, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between these two procedures and discuss their benefits.

What is quality assurance (QA)?

Quality assurance is a proactive approach that encompasses the activities needed to ensure quality standards are met. It focuses on preventing deviations and other defects before they have the chance to come up. QA often involves establishing quality objectives, conducting audits, performing process reviews, and implementing preventive measures to identify and resolve potential issues proactively. 

What is quality control (QC)?

While quality assurance is a proactive approach, quality control is more of a reactive way to test products after they’ve been produced. The QC process involves monitoring and testing the product along various stages of the development process to make sure it meets predetermined quality benchmarks. 

For example, quality control can be used to spot-check or thoroughly test a final prototype before making the last improvements and going to market. If any defects are discovered during the QC process, corrective action is taken to address the issues.

Who is responsible for quality assurance and quality control?

Quality assurance requires a comprehensive approach with many important stakeholders involved.

Senior leadership is responsible for overall product quality in the eyes of the public. Additionally, leadership teams are responsible for decision-making throughout the development process, and team members must uphold these standards during production, design, or customer interactions.

However, Auditors, Compliance, Quality teams, and inspectors have the primary responsibility for maintaining quality control at each stage of the product lifecycle.

Critical differences between quality assurance and quality control

Quality control and quality assurance go hand in hand and are primarily complementary functions. With this being said, here are the key differences that distinguish their roles:

Objective

As touched on above, quality assurance focuses on preventing defects and ensuring adherence to quality standards. It involves proactive planning and implementation of procedures, and quality systems. Quality control’s objective is a reactive process and occurs after production to ensure the final output meets quality criteria. 

Creation vs. verification

“Creation” describes QA activities. Quality assurance aims to create or enhance methods, procedures, and processes based on observations and data-driven results.

“Verification” is conducted in many QC activities: inspecting, checking, and testing if the solution that has been implemented is indeed working as it should.

Long-term vs. short-term

As you may have guessed, quality assurance is a long-term approach that betters the efficiency and effectiveness of your systems, resources, and team members.

It focuses on dynamic procedures that can be improved and adapted to the situation. Previously discovered defects (or possible vulnerabilities) are mitigated before they occur.

QA involves the wisdom of experience and knowledge, and QC discovers errors and inefficiencies or resolves an issue in the short term. QC often feeds into further quality assurance efforts so that the discovered issue doesn’t arise again.

QC takes place after all quality assurance activities have been done to ensure that the product meets or exceeds specifications.

Preventive vs. corrective

Quality assurance tackles issues at their root and focuses on planning. A quality management plan often involves solutions implemented due to quality assurance activities and agreements between all relevant stakeholders.

Quality control is both a corrective and reactive process. QC is used to correct issues from testing and can be either broad or specific. Once the issue is resolved, further analysis can be done so that it feeds quality assurance efforts to prevent this in the future.

QC activities are also reactive, meaning they takes on a “firefighting” approach which usually occurs with product or software emergencies. For example, if issues weren’t caught during hardware prototyping and testing, they’ll require swift and professional quality control to resolve the issue. The goal is to maintain customer satisfaction, while also preventing the issue from affecting other customers.

Process vs. product

QA activities are process-oriented and aim for continuous improvement in regard to your organization’s activities, standards, and protocols. Creating templates and implementing quality management solutions are some primary examples.

QC is extremely product-oriented and focuses on specifics. Regardless of the processes you have put in place, stakeholders in the quality control environment check if all promises have been delivered and all regulations have been followed.

Risk reduction vs. defect identification

QA aims to reduce overall risk by having standards and procedures to prevent errors, defects, and inefficiencies. 

Some regulators also require you to have robust quality assurance standards in place long before the product development process can begin. This reduces risk to the regulators and customers and avoids fines and penalties for non-conformance.

Quality control’s primary function is defect identification of the product, and the subsequent data is then used to improve quality management plans.

It’s important to note that you cannot rely on quality control alone to mitigate risk — especially in complex industries such as aerospace and healthcare — as things can slip through the cracks and open you up to legal action.

How QA and QC ensure product excellence together

Now that we’ve defined quality assurance and control, let’s look at how they work together to achieve quality management standards.

Ensuring product quality and reliability

Quality assurance systems and management foster a preventative and collaborative approach that ensures excellence at every stage of the development process, beginning with ideation. It provides product quality and reliability with frequent touchpoints, milestones, and reviews.

Quality control ties it together with inspections and audits on the product’s performance, quality, and conformance. It provides insights that can later be implemented into a thorough action plan.

Minimizing defects and customer complaints

If a proper quality assurance protocol is followed, defects and deviations will be mitigated or identified throughout the process. The earlier issues are found, the easier they should be to resolve.

During a quality control inspection, your team can confirm that all processes are followed correctly and what can be done if there are deviations from the overall process. This comprehensive and complimentary approach reduces customer complaints due to product excellence, quality, and severe objections.

Meeting regulatory and industry standards

Regulators often demand that you have proper quality management systems in place long before product inspection occurs. Quality assurance fosters a collaborative environment that employs the entire organization and makes them responsible for excellence.

Inspections on the finished product are critical for quality control. A stringent audit and monitoring process is crucial so that the product meets or exceeds standards. Additionally, it minimizes or eliminates the possibility of a regulatory complaint or penalty.

Enhancing customer satisfaction and brand reputation

A forward-looking benefit is that a quality management process with meticulous attention to detail and standardized methods will help you meet customer requirements. A great product delivered on time and with great service bolsters your brand reputation and enhances your marketing efforts in the long run.

Streamline your quality assurance processes with Duro

Both quality assurance and quality control are part of a robust quality management process. They help ensure your products exceed customer expectations and conform with regulatory practices.

At Duro, our product lifecycle management (PLM) solution provides a single source of truth. It enables a collaborative environment to streamline your product development and quality processes. Our seamless CAD integrations empower you to share data across teams, enabling faster feedback and issue correction.

Request a free demo today to learn how we can boost your efficiency, compliance, and collaboration.

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