Real Time SPC


Statistical Process Control is used to detect when a significant change has taken place in a process. 
We want to detect this change as soon as possible. What is real-time will depend on the process. 
All processes have variation as observed in any of their metrics but not all variation is significant from the statistical point of view. 
When we want to control a process by adjusting some process parameter we can make two mistakes:

Control over-reaction

A case of over-reaction is illustrated by the following example:

Someone is shooting at a target and, based on the deviation of the impacts, he adjusts the gun site after each shot.
The end result will be an increase of the dispersion of the impacts, therefore the adjustments will make the process worse.
The correct way is, of course, to fire 5 or 6 shots without adjustments and then decide if adjustment is required based on the center of the impacts.


If you drop a live frog in boiling water it will, immediately, jump out to save its life. But if you put it in a pot of cold water and heat it slowly enough, the frog will eventually pass out without any reaction. Many companies have fallen into this trap:

  • A big disaster generates a quick and effective response and the company recovers
  • A slow degradation of their KPIs such as customer sat or delays pass undetected until it is too late


Statistical Process Control

To avoid these two mistakes we can use SPC to control a metric to find out if the observed changes are significant from the statistical point of view and require a corrective action.
We will illustrate this with the use of an example: control your own weight to check if your diet is leading to your weight target or not.
In this example real-time control means daily.
You can download this example Excel file and enter your data in column B.
Download a copy of this Excel simulator  WeightSPC1.xlsx  from OneDrive to your PC before you run it.

 Data collection

You can decide the frequency of your data collection. In this example I have collected it daily.
It is important to collect it at the same moment (more or less) each day.
You can either have your Excel file in your smartphone or in the cloud (Google Drive or Microsoft's One Drive)

When Excel is used for data collection, the time stamp can be automatically added  in column A with a formula the moment data is entered in column B:


Results interpretation

I am assuming our target is to reduce weight, therefore a downward trend will put the numbers in green and an upward trend will put them in red.
SPC uses some rules, developed by the Western Electric company, to detect symptoms of statistically significant variation . They are shown below with a screen of Minitab SPC for individuals:


The center line is the average of all values and the standard deviation is also estimated from all the values.
In our Excel file upward trend symptoms are in red and downward in green.
The Excel file applies rules 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of this list.
It also discriminates upward and downward trends.
Upward symptoms definitions:

Weight Data Interpretation Example


  • From 24/3 to 28/3 alert 4 indicates that 4 out of the last 5 values were more than 1σ above the center line: this is a weight increase symptom.  
  • Alert 9 in 28/3 and 29/3 mean 9 consecutive values above the center line: also a symptom of weight increase. 
  • From 1/04 to 3/04 alert -2 means 2 out of the last 3 values are 2σ below the center line: statistically significant weight reduction symptom. 
  • Alert -4 on 2/04 and 2/05 means that 4 out of the last 5 values were more than 1σ below the center
  • The last 2 days are stable: no statistically significant trends.
  • A statistically significant reduction doesn't mean that this reduction is acceptable but at least we are moving in the right direction.

Results Analysis with an SPC Individuals Chart 

In our Excel file there is no graphic: we just want to alert of significant trends
Looking at the data in an SPC chart:

  The red dots indicate increase trends and the green dots decrease. 

Stable Process

There is a common misconception about the meaning of process stability
For instance some might call the process characterized by the following data unstable:


But if we look at it in our SPC file:


It doesn't give us any alert of instability
This is a Stable process consisting simply of throwing 4 dice and adding the outcomes. Since we have always thrown dice the same way, SPC is telling us that this is a stable process: no significant change has been detected.
Stability is not always a good thing. In the case of our weight control stability would mean that there is no improvement.
We want stability when the process is OK. If we improve this will show with SPC alerts in the right direction.

Use for other processes

This Excel file can be used to control a variable other than weight at work. For instance:


In this case we are doing an hourly control of our process yield. In this case Yield increase is good so Red is Good.
At 20:00 we have enough evidence of a Yield increase although the change seems to have taken place at 16:00.

Real Time SPC in the Manufacturing Line

The control plan specifies all the control points along the total process. In this board assembly process:
Defects detected in the visual inspections are reported with just one touch of the screen and fed back to the previous step which just produced it:

This immediate feedback to the operator enables a corrective action as soon as the process goes out of control:
Reaction time by the operator will depend on the amount of WIP accumulated between defect production and defect detection:

Corrective action responsibilities:


  • SPC enables detection of significant process change as opposed to just random variation .
  • High process intrinsic variation may lead to over-reaction (adjust when you shouldn't) 
  • This over-reaction increases variation making the process worse
  • Gradual small changes may pass undetected and cause a process degradation in the long term
  • SPC Western Electric rules can even detect small trends and alert the operator to make corrections before the process gets worse
  • Manual pencil & paper SPC charts only detect a point beyond the limits but not all the other trend symptoms
  • See other SPC charts both for variables and attributes in  Statistical Process Control with Excel


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