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What is Quality?

Print Quality Management is a game changer in the print industry, but we explore how quality is defined and how it has evolved.

Mellow Colour explore the difference between Quality Control, Quality Assurance and Quality Management Systems.

Quality is defined as consistent production of a product or service to an agreed specification, or standard, at an agreed cost. It doesn’t mean the highest quality it means a ‘mutually agreed’ quality.

The evolution of print quality management is a particularly interesting example of how a craft can evolve into an efficient and modern manufacturing process.

The birth of the printing industry as we know it today was made possible thanks to contributions from China, Germany and elsewhere. The combination of moveable type, and early printing machines based on modified wine press technology really got things moving in the middle ages.

For the first time it was possible to print many near identical sheets in a short space of time.

The process was controlled by one or two artisans with specialised skills. Craftsmen, perfecting their craft. Sheets were inspected after printing, and those that had visual defects were discarded.

The decision about the suitability of the print to meet client expectations was entirely subjective and completely in the hands of the printer.

This is an early but good example of an inspection-based Quality Control or QC system. It’s a back-end activity for keeping quality levels up.

Over time new technology in platemaking and stereotyping came along which meant it became possible to print the same item on many different presses. This started to create a problem - especially when the client wanted the printed job to look the same, regardless of which press it was produced on.

Printers had to start thinking about making sure the paper and ink had similar qualities and that press maintenance and skill levels were up to standard. This required the formalising of production procedures.

Standard Operating Procedures became the norm and keeping records of problems so that the processes could be improved over time was adopted as an improvement strategy.

This process of defining how to produce an item to a specific level of quality to meet the client expectation is called Quality Assurance – QA and it addresses all stages of the production process.

Quality Assurance includes two basic principles, ‘fit for purpose’, meaning the product should be suitable for its intended purpose; and ‘right first time’, meaning mistakes should be eliminated. This is the back room work that makes a company tick.

Modern quality assurance is usually broken down into five main activities, which focus on measuring and comparison within a predefined standard:

  • Define

  • Measure

  • Analyse

  • Improve

  • Control

We now have some good quality standards in the printing industry, and they continue to evolve and improve.

Note that Quality Control, QC, which also covers inspection, is the last part of the QA process, which becomes less important if the first four parts of the process are well implemented.

Finally, we explore the Quality Management System, QMS, or as it’s becoming more commonly known within the print industry the Print Quality Management system, PQM.

Both QC and QA are components of the QMS and are essential in producing a standardised and conforming product.

But the QMS covers more than just the product. It is a collection of business processes that assures high quality in all areas of the business, with regular internal and often external audits to make sure the system is active, suppliers and consumables are well managed, instruments are accurate, records are kept, and there is a continuous review of the various processes with a view to improving all of them.

The objective of a QMS is to meet client requirements in all areas not just the product. Manufacturers with a good QMS don’t have trouble retaining clients, they are usually good companies to work with, and good companies to work for.

Printers with good PQM credentials are low risk from the client’s point of view. It doesn’t mean they are perfect, but what it does mean is that they have a system in place to make sure they learn from non-compliances and continually strive to improve their service.

Printers that are implementing modern print quality management systems can enjoy high customer satisfaction, increased profitability and improved internal efficiencies.

Brand owners are more likely to place both new and repeat business with trusted partners, resulting in a more profitable and successful relationship for all parties.


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