Traditionally, quality control (QC) inspectors are employed by factories, especially in the garment industry, to make sure the end products meet the required standards. However, this tradition is facing a major change with the introduction of a new concept — quality assurance (QA).
The new concept favours a scientific approach to maintain the consistency in products' quality as well as reduce waste and cost. PC Chan, director of operations, Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) says, " The 4M (man, machine, material and method) and 1E (environment) are what we are talking about all the time. The appropriate control of these factors can enhance the efficiency of production and quality assurance."
He explains that the opening of the China Market has been ongoing for more than a decade now and in the face of fierce competition, garment factories in China have been working on their ODM (original design manufacturing) or even OBM (own brand manufacturing) lines to stay competitive in the international markets. A lot of them seek media channels to publicise their products but they miss out on how to ensure the quality of their products in order to win business. "The technique of quality assurance is regarded as less significant by manufacturers since some executives may think that quality measures are all about spending money and increasing costs," he says. "This belief can be changed over time, a theory supported by training programmes in our Hong Kong headquarters and offices at Guangzhou and Shanghai."
The training and assessment on QA are included in the most relevant programme — the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) certification programme, which is available to professionals in the garment industry. Mr Chan explains, "Manufacturers nowadays are not only required to satisfy customers' quality requirement but they also need to integrate the concept of social responsibility into their production plans. For example, they need to safeguard employees' health by providing them a proper working environment and protecting their rights. They also have to protect the environment by elimination of waste and pollution and to abide by local labour laws."
According to Mr Chan, a QA professional should be up-to-date in the knowledge and application of modern management techniques, and know how to apply statistics in managing business. "There is a great demand for such professionals now and in the near future since they can help manufacturers to raise their production standards," he says. Nevertheless, it will take some time before the management systems can be set up in China as a factual base for manufacturers to use in their decision making processes."
Quality assurance's edge
To illustrate the benefits of QA over QC, Mr Chan jokes, "Say for a car, you need to try out the air bag but you wouldn't crash it to try and see if it works. This is a good point about QA. Instead of testing on the end products, you simply make sure every manufacturing procedure is right on track."
The Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) is a non-profit making organisation established by the Hong Kong Government in 1989, with a mission to assist industry and commerce in the development of quality management systems. The agency includes the application of statistically analysis as an integral part of the training sessions it offers. In short, with application of the statistical technique in quality management systems, defects in products, processes and transactions can be identified and eliminated, leading to increased profits for the company. "The most important thing is that it allows us to look for possible solutions to the existing production problems with the help of a statistical tool," Mr Chan adds. "QA professionals with five years of experience and a certified qualification are in the highest demand and can earn up to HK$25,000 a month. It's worth spending the time to build a career in the profession."