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Dr. Wheeler’s SPC Toolkit

Dr. Wheeler’s SPC Toolkit

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Published by: Gaurav Narula on Dec 13, 2008
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Dr. Wheeler’s SPC Toolkit
Articles from Quality Digest columns 1996-97What Are Shewhart's Charts?
One day my friend David Chambers found a graph summarizing the " daily percentage of defective pairs" on the office wall of the president of a shoe company. Intrigued, David askedthe president why he had this graph on the wall. The president condescendingly replied that hehad the chart on the wall so he could tell how the plant was doing. David immediatelyresponded with, "Tell me how you're doing." He paused, looked at the chart on the wall, andthen said, "Well, some days are better than others!"Even though the president displayed his data in a suitable graphic format, and even though hefelt that these data were important enough to require their posting each day, he did not have aformal way to analyze these values and interpret them.Data must be filtered in some manner to make them intelligible. This filtration may be basedupon a person's experience plus presuppositions and assumptions, or it may be moreformalized and less subjective, but there will always be some method of analysis. Of course,inadequate experience, flawed assumptions or inappropriate presuppositions can result inincorrect interpretations. However, in the absence of a formal and standardized approach tointerpreting data, most managers use the seat-of-the-pants approach.Walter Shewhart developed a simple and effective way to define the voice of the process- hecalled it a control chart. A control chart begins with a time-series graph. A central line is addedas a visual reference for detecting shifts or trends, and control limits (computed from the data)are placed equidistant on either side of the central line. Thus, a control chart is simply a timeseries with three horizontal lines added. The key to the effectiveness of the control chart is theway in which these limits are computed from the data. The control chart shown below consists of a sequence of single values. In other situations, thecontrol chart may be based upon a time series of average values, ranges or some otherfunction of the raw data. While there are several different types of control charts, they are allinterpreted in the same way, and they all reveal different aspects of the voice of the process.Control charts also characterize the behavior of the time series. Occasionally you will encountera time series that is well-behaved; such time series are predictable, consistent and stable overtime. More commonly, time series are not well-behaved; they are unpredictable, inconsistentand change over time. The lines on a control chart provide reference points for use in decidingwhich type of behavior is displayed by any given time series.Shewhart wrote that a process "will be said to be in control when, through the use of pastexperience, we can predict, at least within limits, how the process will behave in the future." Thus, the essence of statistical control is predictability, and the opposite is also true. A processthat does not display a reasonable degree of statistical control is unpredictable. This distinction between predictability and unpredictability is important because prediction isthe essence of doing business. Predictability is a great asset for any process because it makesthe manager's job that much easier. When the process is unpredictable, the time series will beunpredictable, and this unpredictability will repeatedly undermine all of our best efforts.Shewhart's terminology of "controlled variation" and "uncontrolled variation" must beunderstood in the context of predictable and unpredictable, rather than in the sense of being
Wheelers SPC Toolkit 1996-97Pag 1 di 36
able to exert control. The user does not get to "set the limits." We should talk about "predictable processes" and "unpredictable processes." The control chart shows a time series that remains within the computed limits, with no obvioustrend nor any long sequences of points above or below the central line. Thus, this processappears to be predictable. Unless the process is changed in some fundamental way, the plantwill continue to produce anywhere from 7-percent defectives to 30-percent defectives, with adaily average of about 19-percent defective.Predictable performance is not necessarily the same as desirable performance. Notice how thecontrol chart has helped interpret the data. First, the chart is used to characterize the behaviorof the data- are they predictable or not? Second, the control chart allows the manager topredict what to expect in the future- the voice of the process!Finally, notice the difference between the shoe company president's interpretation of thesedata and the interpretation based on the control chart. Some days only appeared to be betterthan others! In truth, both the "good" days and the "bad" days came from the same process.Looking for differences between the "good" days and the "bad" days will simply be a waste of time.
Myths About Shewhart's Charts
 The control charts described in many current technical articles bear little, if any, resemblanceto the control chart technique described in Walter Shewhart's writings. Part of this problem canbe attributed to novices teaching neophytes, while part is due to the failure to read Shewhart'swritings carefully. Therefore, to help the reader differentiate control chart myths fromfoundations, this column will focus on both. This month, I will discuss four myths aboutShewhart's charts. Next month, I will discuss four foundations of Shewhart's charts.Myth One: Data must be normally distributed before they can be placed on a control chart.While the control chart constants were created under the assumption of normally distributeddata, the control chart technique is essentially insensitive to this assumption. This insensitivityis what makes the control chart robust enough to work in the real world as a procedure forinductive inference. In August, this column showed the robustness of three-sigma limits with agraphic showing some very nonnormal curves. The data don't have to be normally distributed before you can place them on a control chart. The computations are essentially unaffected by the degree of normality of the data. Justbecause the data display a reasonable degree of statistical control, doesn't mean that they willfollow a normal distribution. The normality of the data is neither a prerequisite nor aconsequence of statistical control.Myth Two: Control charts work because of the central limit theorem. The central limit theorem applies to subgroup averages (e.g., as the subgroup size increases,the histogram of the subgroup averages will, in the limit, become more "normal," regardless of how the individual measurements are distributed). Because many statistical techniques utilizethe central limit theorem, it's only natural to assume that it's the basis of the control chart.However, this isn't the case. The central limit theorem describes the behavior of subgroupaverages, but it doesn't describe the behavior of the measures of dispersion. Moreover, thereisn't a need for the finesse of the central limit theorem when working with Shewhart's charts,where three-sigma limits filter out 99 percent to 100 percent of the probable noise, leaving onlythe potential signals outside the limits. Because of the conservative nature of the three-sigmalimits, the central limit theorem is irrelevant to Shewhart's charts.Undoubtedly, this myth has been one of the greatest barriers to the effective use of controlcharts with management and process-industry data. When data are obtained one-value-per-
Wheelers SPC Toolkit 1996-97Pag 2 di 36
time-period, it's logical to use subgroups with a size of one. However, if you believe this mythto be true, you'll feel compelled to average something to make use of the central limit theorem.But the rationality of the data analysis will be sacrificed to superstition.Myth Three: Observations must be independent-data with autocorrelation are inappropriate forcontrol charts.Again, we have an artificial barrier based on theoretical assumptions, which ignores the natureof real data and the robustness of the control chart. All data derived from production processeswill display some level of autocorrelation. Shewhart uses autocorrelated data in the controlchart as early as page 20 of his first book. He writes that assignable causes of variation arefound and removed, then new data is collected. The new data shows they improved theprocess.Remember, the purpose of analysis is insight rather than numbers. The control chart isn'tconcerned with probability models. Rather, it's concerned with using data for making decisionsin the real world. Control charts have worked with autocorrelated data for more than 60 years.Myth Four: Data must be in control before you can plot them on a control chart. This myth could have only come from computing limits incorrectly. Among the blunders thathave been made in the name of this myth are: censoring data prior to charting them and usinglimits that aren't three-sigma limits. Needless to say, these and other manipulations areunnecessary. The purpose of Shewhart's charts is to detect lack of control. If a control chartcan't detect lack of control, why use it?
Foundations of Shewhart's Charts
Last month, I described four myths relating to Shewhart's charts. This month I will discuss fourfoundations of the charts.Foundation One: Shewhart's charts always use three-sigma limits. Regardless of the type of chart you're using, the limits depend on the same principle. The data will be used to determinethe amount of variation that is likely to be background noise, and the limits will be placed threeestimated standard deviations on either side of the central line. Three-sigma limits are action limits-they dictate when action can be taken on a process. Theyare not probability limits. While they have a basis in probability theory, three-sigma limits werechosen because they provided reasonable action limits. They strike an economical balancebetween the two possible errors you can make in interpreting data from a continuing process. Three-sigma limits neither result in too many false alarms nor do they miss too many signals. Inaddition, they are unaffected by data nonnormality, even when the subgroup size is one.Foundation Two: Computing three-sigma control limits requires the use of an averagedispersion statistic. By computing several dispersion statistics, using either an average or amedian dispersion statistic, computation stability increases. This use of the subgroup variationwill provide measures of dispersion that are much less sensitive to a lack of control than mostother approaches. The choice of dispersion statistic is unimportant-ranges, standard deviations or root meansquare deviations may be used. If the proper approach is used, different statistics will yieldsimilar results. If the wrong approach is used, different statistics will yield similar incorrectresults.Foundation Three: The conceptual foundation of Shewhart's control charts is the notion of rational sampling and rational subgrouping. How the data are collected, how they are arrangedinto subgroups and how these subgroups are charted must be based on the context of the
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