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Acceptable Quality Level (AQL): Definition, How It Works, Types, And Examples

Last updated 10/17/2023 by

Dan Agbo

Edited by

Fact checked by

The acceptable quality level (AQL) is a crucial metric in quality control, defined as the worst tolerable level of defects in a product. This article delves into what AQL is, how it operates, industry variations, and the practical use of AQL tables. Learn why AQL matters and how it impacts different sectors.

What is acceptable quality level (AQL)?

The acceptable quality level (AQL) is a pivotal concept in quality control, officially defined by ISO 2859-1 as the “worst tolerable” level of quality for a product. This essential metric provides a quantifiable measure of the number of defective components that can be deemed acceptable during random sampling quality inspections. Typically, the AQL is expressed as a percentage or ratio, allowing manufacturers and quality control experts to gauge the product’s overall quality.

How does acceptable quality level (AQL) work?

The mechanics of the acceptable quality level (AQL) revolve around the random sampling of goods. During quality inspections, a selection of items from a production batch is tested. If the number of defective items falls below a predetermined threshold, the product is considered to meet the AQL. However, if the AQL is not met during the inspection, manufacturers delve into the production process to identify and rectify the root causes of defects.
It’s important to note that the AQL can differ significantly between industries. For instance, medical products, where defective items can pose substantial health risks to users, have more stringent AQL standards.
To illustrate, consider an AQL of 1% established for a production run comprising 1,000 products. In this scenario, no more than 10 products within the batch can be defective. Should the number of defective products exceed 10 (e.g., 11 or more), the entire batch is deemed unacceptable and subjected to rejection, a situation referred to as the rejectable quality level (RQL).

Industry differences in AQL standards

Various industries maintain distinct AQL standards. These standards are influenced by the potential consequences of defective products within specific sectors. In industries where defective items can result in severe health risks or other significant issues, AQL standards tend to be more rigorous.
Conversely, industries with products where minor defects do not significantly impact usability may have less strict AQL standards. A prime example could be the remote controls used with televisions.

Using AQL tables

A key tool in the realm of quality control is the AQL tables, also known as AQL charts. These tables are thoughtfully designed to serve as reference standards, providing clear guidance on what qualifies as an acceptable number of defects within the manufacturing process.
These tables play an integral role in helping companies determine the number of allowable defects required to meet a specified AQL standard. It’s worth noting that these tables are part of ISO 2859, a set of standards that underpin various aspects of quality control.

AQL defects

Defects in the context of AQL are categorized into three distinct types, each with its associated AQL standard:
  • Critical defects: These are defects that, if accepted, could potentially harm users, making them entirely unacceptable. The AQL for critical defects is set at 0%.
  • Major defects: Major defects are those that are generally not acceptable to end-users because they are likely to result in product failure. The AQL for major defects is set at 2.5%.
  • Minor defects: Minor defects are those that, while not significantly impacting product usability for its intended purpose, deviate from specified standards. Some end users may still accept products with minor defects. The AQL for minor defects is established at 4%.

AQL in practice

In practice, the acceptable quality level (AQL) plays a pivotal role in maintaining and assuring the quality of products. It serves as a crucial benchmark, ensuring that products meet the mutually agreed-upon quality standards. Particularly in the context of large-scale production orders, AQL acts as a valuable tool for efficiently maintaining quality while keeping both buyers and sellers content.

The bottom line

In summary, the acceptable quality level (AQL) is an invaluable measure for companies engaged in manufacturing, ensuring that large-scale production orders adhere to the desired quality standards. It allows for efficient production while satisfying the expectations of both buyers and sellers, resulting in the delivery of high-quality products to the market.
Weigh the Risks and Benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and the drawbacks to consider.
  • Ensures products meet agreed-upon quality standards
  • Efficient for large-scale production orders
  • Helps maintain product quality
  • Stricter AQL can lead to higher production costs
  • Complexity in managing multiple AQLs for different products
  • Requires diligent inspection and quality control

Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of AQL in quality control?

AQL sets the worst tolerable level of defects in a product, ensuring it meets specified quality standards during random sampling inspections.

How do industries determine their AQL standards?

AQL standards differ between industries, with stricter levels for products that pose health risks and more lenient standards for products with minor defects.

How are AQL tables used in manufacturing?

AQL tables help companies reference acceptable defect levels and determine how many defects are allowed to meet a specific AQL.

What are the consequences of exceeding the AQL in production?

Exceeding the AQL may result in rejected batches and the need for further investigation and product reevaluation.

Is there a standard AQL for all products?

No, the AQL varies depending on the product and industry, with higher standards in industries where defects can have severe consequences.

What factors are used to determine if AQL is being met?

Calculating AQL involves considering the lot size, inspection type, inspection level, and desired AQL. Online AQL calculators can assist in this process.

What does an AQL of 2.5 mean?

An AQL of 2.5 signifies that only 2.5% of an order can be defective for it to be considered acceptable. If more than 2.5% is defective, the agreement between the buyer and producer is not met.

What is the standard AQL?

There is no standard AQL; it varies based on the product and industry, with higher standards in industries where defects can have severe consequences.

Key takeaways

  • Acceptable quality level (AQL) is a critical concept in quality control, defining the worst tolerable level of quality for a product.
  • Random sampling of goods is employed to determine if the AQL is met, with different industries having varying AQL standards.
  • AQL tables serve as reference standards for acceptable defect levels in manufacturing, providing guidance for companies to meet specified AQL standards.
  • AQL defects are categorized into three types: critical defects (0% AQL), major defects (2.5% AQL), and minor defects (4% AQL).
  • In practice, AQL is crucial for maintaining and assuring product quality, particularly in large-scale production orders.

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