Quality Control Introductory Overview - Unequal Sample Sizes

When the samples plotted in the control chart are not of equal size, the control limits around the center line (target specification) cannot be represented by a straight line. For example, to return to the formula Sigma/Square Root(n) presented earlier for computing control limits for the X-bar chart, it is obvious that unequal n's will lead to different control limits for different sample sizes. There are three ways of dealing with this situation.

Average sample size. If you want to maintain the straight-line control limits (e.g., to make the chart easier to read and easier to use in presentations), you can compute the average n per sample across all samples, and establish the control limits based on the average sample size. This procedure is not "exact," however, as long as the sample sizes are reasonably similar to each other, this procedure is quite adequate.

Variable control limits. Alternatively, you can compute different control limits for each sample, based on the respective sample sizes. This procedure will lead to variable control limits, and result in step-chart like control lines in the plot. This procedure ensures that the correct control limits are computed for each sample. However, you lose the simplicity of straight-line control limits.

Stabilized (normalized) chart. The best of two worlds (straight line control limits that are accurate) can be accomplished by standardizing the quantity to be controlled (mean, proportion, etc.) according to units of sigma. The control limits can then be expressed in straight lines, while the location of the sample points in the plot depend not only on the characteristic to be controlled, but also on the respective sample n's. The disadvantage of this procedure is that the values on the vertical (Y) axis in the control chart are in terms of sigma rather than the original units of measurement, and therefore, those numbers cannot be taken at face value (e.g., a sample with a value of 3 is 3 times sigma away from specifications; in order to express the value of this sample in terms of the original units of measurement, we need to perform some computations to convert this number back).