Quality Control Introductory Overview - General Approach

The general approach to on-line quality control is straightforward: We simply extract samples of a certain size from the ongoing production process. We then produce line charts of the variability in those samples, and consider their closeness to target specifications. If a trend emerges in those lines, or if samples fall outside pre-specified limits, then we declare the process to be out of control and take action to find the cause of the problem. These types of charts are sometimes also referred to as Shewhart control charts (named after W. A. Shewhart who is generally credited as being the first to introduce these methods; see Shewhart, 1931).

Interpreting the chart. The most standard display actually contains two charts (and two histograms); one is called an X-bar chart, the other is called an R chart. In both line charts, the horizontal axis represents the different samples; the vertical axis for the X-bar chart represents the means for the characteristic of interest; the vertical axis for the R chart represents the ranges. For example, suppose we wanted to control the diameter of piston rings that we are producing. The center line in the X-bar chart would represent the desired standard size (e.g., diameter in millimeters) of the rings, while the center line in the R chart would represent the acceptable (within-specification) range of the rings within samples; thus, this latter chart is a chart of the variability of the process (the larger the variability, the larger the range). In addition to the center line, a typical chart includes two additional horizontal lines to represent the upper and lower control limits (UCL, LCL, respectively); we will return to those lines shortly. Typically, the individual points in the chart, representing the samples, are connected by a line. If this line moves outside the upper or lower control limits or exhibits systematic patterns across consecutive samples (see Runs Tests), then a quality problem may potentially exist. The overall mean (followed by the desired standard mean) and standard deviation (sigma, followed by the desired standard sigma) is given in the title area of the X-bar and variability charts.

For details on how to customize alarms and other critical chart events, see The Architecture of the Quality Control Charts Module and Quality Control Events.