Control charts, also known as Shewhart charts or process-behavior charts, in statistical process control are tools used to determine whether or not a manufacturing or business process is in a state of statistical control.
If analysis of the control chart indicates that the process is currently under control (i.e. is stable, with variation only coming from sources common to the process) then data from the process can be used to predict the future performance of the process. If the chart indicates that the process being monitored is not in control, analysis of the chart can help determine the sources of variation, which can then be eliminated to bring the process back into control. A control chart is a specific kind of run chart that allows significant change to be differentiated from the natural variability of the process.
The control chart can be seen as part of an objective and disciplined approach that enables correct decisions regarding control of the process, including whether or not to change process control parameters. Process parameters should never be adjusted for a process that is in control, as this will result in degraded process performance.
The control chart is one of the seven basic tools of quality control.
If the process is in control, all points will plot within the control limits. Any observations outside the limits, or systematic patterns within, suggest the introduction of a new (and likely unanticipated) source of variation, known as a special-cause variation. Since increased variation means increased quality costs, a control chart “signaling” the presence of a special-cause requires immediate investigation.
This makes the control limits very important decision aids. The control limits tell you about process behavior and have no intrinsic relationship to any specification targets or engineering tolerance. In practice, the process mean (and hence the center line) may not coincide with the specified value (or target) of the quality characteristic because the process’ design simply can’t deliver the process characteristic at the desired level.
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