Quality Assurance: a Crash Course for Makers


Process Cat teaching Gary about Quality Assurance

You know that quality is important for Makers.  And if you read our last post, you’ve learned the “engineering” way to think about quality, quality control, and how the concepts apply for Maker businesses.

Now discover something new about quality.  This week we’re talking about the difference between Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA.)  We’ll start with QC because it’s easier.

Quality Controls

Quality Controls are examinations or tests for your product.  They can happen part-way through the process or at the end.  The point is, you check your parts to see if they’re good enough to send out to your customers.  

Following from last week’s example:  Rhonda makes wooden coasters.  Her QC has two steps:

  1. As she’s working, she throws out any that break.
  2. Right before packaging, she inspects the coasters for chips and cracks.
Rhonda demonstrating a quality control test.
Any with defects more than 4mm on the back (2mm on the front) get scrapped.

A larger company would have more stringent tests, especially if the product had life-critical functions, such as a medical device.  But Rhonda’s system works just fine for her craft-based business!

Here’s a real example, a digital one, from our own system here at Process Cat: on blog days, Josh runs through what we call our “glitch check.”  He checks that the blog posted as expected, that the newsletter went out on time and the link to the article works. He also checks that the social media posts look the way we wanted.  (This is different from how it would work with a physical product – we can make edits instantly and without shipping costs. If your product is novelty shoelaces or LED dog collars, you’ll want to complete your quality checks before shipping!)

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance comes before QC in your process. QA comprises activities aimed at preventing parts that would fail QC from ever getting made.  Yes, I know that’s vague and confusing. So let’s look at another example:

Gary makes cookies.   

Gary holding cookies with different amounts of chocolate chips to demonstrate variability in quality.
Weirdly, there is a “right” amount of chocolate chips per cookie!

Gary has implemented a QC right before packaging: he checks to see that each cookie has at least 4 chocolate chips but not more than 12.  Because who wants a chocolate chip cookie with no chips???

This check prevents abnormal cookies from getting out to customers, but he wants to avoid making those cookies in the first place because it’s a waste having to throw them out.  

Process Cat teaching Gary about Quality Assurance
Luckily, Process Cat has a great idea for a Quality Assurance Activity!
Gary demonstrating a quality assurance activity in his manufacturing process.
Yeah, it’s just stirring the batter.

Your quality assurance strategies might be less obvious than that 😉  

Back to our real example with the Process Cat social media links: we noticed that often, the images that displayed on Facebook and Twitter looked strange because of the way those sites crop images.  So we now use a program called Yoast that lets us upload a specially-formatted image for each social media site.

Quality Assurance means you implement strategies to prevent failures before they happen.

Challenge for this week:

Walk through your own processes.  Do you already have some Quality Controls in place?  If not, consider adding some.  And if you do?  Think about what Quality Assurance strategies you can implement!  

M.G. Rhoads shares her deep engineering

through engaging stories that make manufacturing principles easy to use and understand.

“I show makers, inventors and entrepreneurs the secrets big companies use to run a successful manufacturing line!”

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