For organizations doing business in regulatory environments, successful quality assurance and quality control are crucial aspects of quality management in FDA- and ISO-regulated environments. Often, “quality control” and “quality assurance” are used interchangeably, referring to the activities conducted to ensure the quality of a product, service or process. While some quality control and quality assurance activities are interrelated, however, the two are not necessarily interchangeable.
What Is a Quality Control System?
As defined by ISO 9000:2015’s Quality management systems — Fundamentals and vocabulary, quality control is the part of quality management focused on fulfilling quality requirements, whereas quality assurance is the part focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. EU Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines state that quality control is “concerned with sampling, specifications and testing, and with the organisation, documentation and release procedures which ensure that the necessary and relevant tests are actually carried out and that materials are not released for use, nor products released for sale or supply, until their quality has been judged to be satisfactory.”
In simple terms, quality assurance relates to how a process is performed or how a product is made, whereas quality control stands for evaluating – e.g., inspecting, sampling, testing – a product or service to detect whether it fulfills certain requirements for quality, is free of defects, conforms to specifications and functions as required.
One way to look at it would be to think of quality control as product oriented and reactive, and quality assurance as process oriented and preventive. Quality control is often considered a post-event activity, identifying defects after the product is produced.
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Although it may identify problems and facilitate ways to resolve them, a quality control system alone does not ensure quality. Quality control by itself has limitations, particularly the ability to detect and prevent quality problems early.
Per current industry practice, quality systems being developed today generally stress quality management, quality assurance and risk management tools in addition to quality control. Leveraging a robust enterprise quality management system (EQMS), organizations can connect and streamline these complex quality processes.
How an EQMS Improves Quality Control (and Assurance)
Increasingly more organizations have begun to understand how an optimal EQMS can ensure that each product meets specific efficacy, safety, quality and compliance requirements. A robust EQMS will automate, monitor and effectively manage all core areas necessary to maintain quality in products and processes, including:
- Quality audits – An EQMS will streamline and better manage the entire audit process, from scheduling and planning through execution and completion; automate scheduling of all recurring audit-related activities; and leverage advanced tracking, analytics and reporting capabilities for a real-time view of the audit process.
- Quality events – An EQMS will enable you to more effectively identify, evaluate and handle nonconformance, deviations, customer complaints and other quality events; automate data collection, routing, follow-up and escalation of quality events; and leverage forms and processes that connect personnel for quick disposition of a nonconformance.
- Corrective and preventive action (CAPA) – An EQMS with strong CAPA capabilities will automate and more effectively manage every step of CAPA implementation, from identification of the problem through corrective action; integrate the CAPA process with other quality processes, such as nonconformance and audit; and help keep your quality system always ready for inspections and audits.
- Change control – An end-to-end EQMS will allow you to streamline the entire change control process and quality control system; leverage forms that incorporate priority level and prompt risk assessment and classification of the change; and customize reports that will provide real-time status of change control tasks as well as the entire quality system.
- Document control – An EQMS with robust document management abilities will enable you to automate and better manage all tasks relating to documents-based processes; maintain all documentation in a single repository; and integrate quality processes like CAPA and audits.
- Training management – A robust EQMS will automate the assigning and monitoring of training tasks; and integrate training management with the rest of the quality control system, so any change to a quality document or process that requires new training will automatically prompt training tasks upon approval of the change.
A comprehensive EQMS is designed to work as a single end-to-end solution, rather than a combination of components (often from multiple vendors), and will help an organization address critical aspects of quality control and assurance, as well as risk management as it relates to quality management.
- Risk – An integrated EQMS can help organizations identify and mitigate long-term systemic risks by tracking and analyzing the recurrence of issues; unify all risk-related activities and documentation in a single, centralized repository; automatically receive information (about a deviation, for example) that triggers a risk analysis; and gain a complete view of risk across product lines, business processes and business units.
David Butcher has been writing about business and technology trends in the industrial B2B space for more than a decade. Currently a marketing communications specialist at MasterControl, he previously served as editor of ThomasNet News’ Industry Market Trends and as assistant editor for Technology Marketing Corp.’s Customer Interaction Solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the State University of New York, Purchase.