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# Quality Digest Magazine, SPC Tools

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spctoolkit
by Donald J. Wheeler

## When Do I Recalculate My Limits?

Correct limits allow the user to separate probable noise from potential signals. Of all the questions about Shewhart's charts, this is perhaps the most frequently asked question. While there is no simple answer, there are some useful guidelines. The first guideline for computing limits for Shewhart's charts is: You get no credit for computing the right number-only for taking the right action. Without the follow-through of taking the right action, the computation of the right number is meaningless. Now, this is contrary to everyone's experience with arithmetic. Early on we are trained to "find the right number." Thus, when people are introduced to Shewhart's charts, this natural anxiety will surface in the form of questions about how to get the "right limits." While there are definite rules for computing limits, and right and wrong ways of computing such limits, the real power of Shewhart's charts lies in the organization's ability to use them to understand and improve their processes. This use of Shewhart's charts-as an aid for making decisions-is the true focal point of the charts. But it is so easy to miss and so hard to teach. The second guideline for computing limits for Shewhart's charts is: The purpose of the limits is to adequately reflect the voice of the process. As long as the limits are computed in the correct way and reflect the voice of the process, then they are "correct limits." (Notice that the definite article is missing-they are just "correct limits," not "the correct limits.") Correct limits allow the user to separate probable noise from potential signals. Shewhart's charts are a tool for filtering out the probable noise. They have been proven to work in more than 70 years of practice. Shewhart deliberately chose three-sigma limits. He wanted limits wide enough to filter out the bulk of the probable noise so that people wouldn't waste time interpreting noise as signals. He also wanted limits narrow enough to detect the probable signals so that people wouldn't miss signals of economic importance. In years of practice he found that three-sigma limits provided a satisfactory balance between these two mistakes. Therefore, in the spirit of striking a balance between the two mistakes above, the time to recompute the limits for Shewhart's charts comes when, in your best judgment, they no longer adequately reflect the voice of the process. The third guideline for computing limits for Shewhart's charts is: Use the proper formulas for the computations. The proper formulas for the limits are well-known and widely published. Nevertheless, novices continually think that they know better and invent shortcuts that are wrong. The proper formulas for average and range charts will always use an average or median dispersion statistic in the computations. No formula that uses a single measure of dispersion is correct. The proper formula for X-charts (charts for individual values) will always use an average moving range

11/2/2011

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