Statistical process control (SPC) is a method of quality control which employs statistical methods to monitor and control a process. This helps ensure the process operates efficiently, producing more specification-conforming product with less waste (rework or scrap). SPC can be applied to any process where the “conforming product” (product meeting specifications) output can be measured. Key tools used in SPC include run charts, control charts, a focus on continuous improvement, and the design of experiments. An example of a process where SPC is applied is manufacturing lines.
SPC must be practiced in 2 phases: The first phase is the initial establishment of the process, and the second phase is the regular production use of the process. In the second phase, a decision of the period to be examined must be made, depending upon the change in 5M&E conditions (Man, Machine, Material, Method, Movement, Environment) and wear rate of parts used in the manufacturing process (machine parts, jigs, and fixtures).
An advantage of SPC over other methods of quality control, such as “inspection”, is that it emphasizes early detection and prevention of problems, rather than the correction of problems after they have occurred.
In addition to reducing waste, SPC can lead to a reduction in the time required to produce the product. SPC makes it less likely the finished product will need to be reworked or scrapped.
In manufacturing, quality is defined as conformance to specification. However, no two products or characteristics are ever exactly the same, because any process contains many sources of variability. In mass-manufacturing, traditionally, the quality of a finished article is ensured by post-manufacturing inspection of the product.
Each article (or a sample of articles from a production lot) may be accepted or rejected according to how well it meets its design specifications. In contrast, SPC uses statistical tools to observe the performance of the production process in order to detect significant variations before they result in the production of a sub-standard article. Any source of variation at any point of time in a process will fall into one of two classes.
1) “Common Causes” – sometimes referred to as nonassignable, normal sources of variation. It refers to many sources of variation that consistently acts on process. These types of causes produce a stable and repeatable distribution over time.
2) “Special Causes” – sometimes referred to as assignable sources of variation. It refers to any factor causing variation that affects only some of the process output. They are often intermittent and unpredictable.
Most processes have many sources of variation; most of them are minor and may be ignored. If the dominant sources of variation are identified, however, resources for change can be focused on them. If the dominant assignable sources of variation are detected, potentially they can be identified and removed. Once removed, the process is said to be “stable”. When a process is stable, its variation should remain within a known set of limits. That is, at least, until another assignable source of variation occurs.