These days, quality control already seems like it has been around forever – and in actual fact, in its various forms, it has been around for a very long time… according to historians that traced the idea back to its early roots, it’s been around for since as far back as 3000 B.C. in Babylonia. It makes sense, when you stop to think about it. While there may not have been as many terms, software tools, processes and procedures as they are today, the basic principles of improvement have always been required. It was these principles that got the wheel invented, along with just about every other major advancement known to man. Where did it all begin though, and how has quality control through the ages helped to give us the systems that we use today?
The Early Days of Quality Control
In its early origins traced back to ancient Babylonia, references to quality control were found in the code of Hammurabi, who ruled the land during this time. This code contained an excerpt that stated, “The mason who builds a house which falls down and kills the inmate shall be put to death.” Thankfully, our thinking has evolved since then to be somewhat less ‘eye for an eye’, but clearly that code showed that even then there was a large concern for quality to be upheld. Some other examples of early process control include the following:
- Egypt developed a system for quarrying stone, which was then dressed and used to build the pyramids. From what history has taught us, the pyramids were built in a very orderly, structured manner, with each stone meeting basic criteria for quality before being placed. While tourism has sadly caused some minor disrepair, for the most part, the fact that the pyramids still stand today says a lot about the level of quality required during the building process.
- Greece took their architecture one step further when it came to building military applications. Much later, in the Venetian shipbuilding enterprises, basic production control and standardisation was introduced in order to keep fleets strong and ready for rough seas.
- The Industrial Revolution went a long way in putting forward the factory systems with the quality management and process control that is seen in today’s era, as new factories and workshops were built in huge numbers around the developing world.
- In the United States, labour specialisation progressed when Eli Whitney introduced the interchangeability of parts when making 15,000 muskets for the government of his day. Mass production came into its own, leading to an objective inspector replacing the usual skilled craftsmen involved in the production process.
- Quality assurance took another leap in 1911, when Fredrick W Taylor published a book called Principles of Scientific Management. This book had a huge effect on management, in both strategy and practice. He suggested eight managers for the shop floor, with one taking the role of inspection, stating that the inspector was responsible for the quality of the work. He later agreed that there were some downsides of extreme functional specialisation, but the ideas he put across in regards to quality are still used today.
- In the 1920s, the Western Electric plant of Bell Laboratories began to introduce the idea of zero defects. Walter Shewart designed an original version of SQC (statistical quality control) during the mass production of complicated exchanges and sets for the telephone. In 1931, he published a book on this milestone, called Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product. Both W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran – former members of Shewart’s group and quality gurus themselves – went on to develop their own versions of this principle.
Keeping these past milestones in mind helps us to realise just how far we have come when it comes to improvement and planning. Japan has also played a vital role in the development of lean strategies as well as quality management, and around the world, much of the strategies used today have also had their origins in the early days of quality.