The main focus of the 2013 Hagen Symposium was on quality and productivity in Powder Metallurgy. Benedikt Sommerhoff of DGQ (The German Association for Quality) gave a presentation on the history of Quality Assurance along with current trends.
The presentation was based on an on-line survey carried out by DGQ in July and August 2013 collecting the opinions of 150 Quality Assurance specialists. Sommerhoff explained that there is a difference between Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Management (QM). In his presentation he looked exclusively at current trends in Quality Assurance, not Quality Management.
Historic development of Quality Assurance
In Germany, a systematic Quality Assurance was first introduced in volume production processes in the 1950s. This was the industrial sector where initially the greatest benefits were achieved. The early QA units were the precursors of later QM departments. However, Quality Management did not replace Quality Assurance, it was an extension of responsibilities and Quality Assurance, as part of Quality Management, more or less retained its original tasks and methods.
The three main subjects dominating Quality Assurance are:
- Measurement and Testing
- Error Management (error analysis and root cause analysis)
- Requirement Management
Quality Management is additionally concerned with the design of management systems. Another upcoming task for Quality Management is organisational development.
Measurement and testing methods, statistical methods, error and root cause analysis were the main tasks of Quality Assurance from the start. Auditing methods can either be allocated to Measurement and Testing where they are mainly verification of conformity, or to Error Management if the focus is directed at identifying potentials for improvement.
Later, additional responsibilities regarding the legal and contracted customer specific requirements for product and process features were implemented, the so-called Requirement Management. In the 1970s, the QFD method (Quality Function Deployment) was introduced to support this task. Other methods such as FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) are even older and still in use.
The rapid development of IT technologies has had a fundamental effect on Quality Assurance techniques. In such a data intensive field these innovations could immediately be integrated and in many companies QA specialists were among the pioneers of IT application. Manual data acquisition was soon replaced by QA specific software applications.
The extension of Quality Assurance to Quality Management began with the emergence of TQM (Total Quality Management) in the 1970s and was accelerated by QM System Certifications in the 1980s. Experienced QA specialists were promoted to Quality Managers. The extended tasks and responsibilities of QM often had the consequence that fewer resources were allocated to their original tasks of Quality Assurance so that gradually experience and expertise reduced. The personnel moving up to Quality Assurance were not sufficiently trained in the statistical methods which were increasingly conducted by computers. So a gradual erosion of the use of statistical methods took place which had to be reversed later with great difficulty.
Future trends in Quality Assurance
Future trends in Quality Assurance were identified in a trend scenario QM2020 initiated by DGQ. The most important of these were:
- Growing complexity and variety of products and services
- Extensive automation of data acquisition and error handling
- Expansion of data base and knowledge (“big data”)
Trends and changes in Quality Assurance are often associated with changes in the organisation. This is why the survey included questions about the organisational structure of QA and its differentiation from other parts of Quality Management.
When asked about the availability of QM and QA in their organisation, 98% of the participants answered that QM is available and 85% confirmed that QA is available (Fig. 1). This confirmed the high relevance of the survey to the participating quality engineers. The affiliation of the QA department or function within the organisation revealed some of the organisational structure of the industry (Fig. 2). In almost two thirds of the organisations the traditional integration of QA in the QM system is still prevailing, in others QA is affiliated to Manufacturing, Plant Management or Engineering. There was no correlation between the affiliation of QA and the success of QM.
The most widely used basic concepts of Quality Assurance applied by 50-75% of the participants of the survey were worker self-inspection, the zero-defect concept and lean management. Roughly one third applied philosophies such as TQM, Poka-Yoke and Six-Sigma. These methods have been in use for decades and no fundamental change is expected in the near future.
The biggest potential for innovation in Quality Assurance is envisaged in further computerisation and automation of data acquisition and data processing. Therefore the participants were asked about the availability of Production Planning and Control (PPC) systems, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Computer Aided Quality (CAQ) (Fig. 3).
Automated data acquisition and data networking will help to take even more advantage of quality data for production control and for a robust product development. The differentiation of QM and QA will become wider in the future with the option of a closer and better integration of QA into the manufacturing organisation and engineering.
Modern Quality Assurance in the manufacturing industry will no longer be a subsidiary discipline of Quality Management, but an independent engineering science with close links to QM, Manufacturing and Product Development.
Author: Dr Georg Schlieper, Gammatec Engineering GmbH, Germany
Dr.-Ing. Georg Schlieper, physicist, received his PhD at the Insitute for Materials and Solid State Research of the University of Karlsruhe, Germany. He worked for 15 years in product and process development for the Powder Metallurgy industry where he focused on high strength sintered steels, heat treatment, surface technology, magnetic materials and metal injection moulding. Since 1994 he has worked independently as a consultant. Email: [email protected]