In a board sense, quality assurance refers to any planned and systematic activity directed toward providing consumers with products (goods and services) of appropriate quality, along with the confidence that products meet consumers’ requirements. Quality assurance depends on excellence of two important focal points in business: the design of goods and services and the control of quality during execution of manufacturing and service delivery, which is often aided by some form of measurement and inspection activity.
Quality assurance has been an important aspect of production operations throughtout history. For instance, Egyptian wall painting circa 1450 B.C. show evidence of measurement and inspection. Stones for the pyramids were cut so precisely that even today it is impossible to put a knife blade between the blocks. The Egyptians’ success was due to good design, the consistent use of well-developed building methods and procedures, and precise measuring devices.
The birth of modern quality assurance methods actually began the twelfth century B.C. in China during the Zhou Dynasty. Specific governmental departments were created and given responsibility for:
- Production, inventory, and product distribution of raw material (what we now call supply chain management)
- Production and manufacturing
- Formulating and executing quality standards
- Supervision and inspection
These departments were well organized and helped establish China’s central control over production processes. The system even included an independent quality organization responsible for end-to-end oversight that reported directly to the highest level of government.
The central government issued policies and procedures to control production across China- including production of utensils, carts, cotton, and silk- and prohibited the sale of nonconforming, inferior, and substandard products. An example of one of the decrees of the Zhou Dynasty is: “Utensils under standards are not allowed to be sold on the market; cottons and silks of which the quality and size are not up to the standards are not allowed to be sold on the market.” In ancient China, inspection at various stages by the workers themselves was important in establishing responsibility for quality. When a product was found to be nonconforming, the responsible worker was identified and the root causes for the failure evaluated.