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7QC Tools and its Advancements

The seven basic tools of quality is a designation given to a fixed set of graphical techniques identified as being most helpful in troubleshooting issues related to quality. They are called basic because they are suitable for people with little formal training in statistics and because they can be used to solve the vast majority of quality-related issues.

Once the basic problem-solving or quality improvement process is understood, the addition of quality tools can make the process proceed more quickly and systematically. Seven simple tools can be used by any professional to ease the quality improvement process: flowcharts, check sheets, Pareto diagrams, cause and effect diagrams, histograms, scatter diagrams, and control charts.

  1. FLOWCHARTS

Flowcharts describe a process in as much detail as possible by graphically displaying the steps in proper sequence. A good flowchart should show all process steps under analysis by the quality improvement team, identify critical process points for control, suggest areas for further improvement, and help explain and solve a problem.

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The flowchart is a simple production process in which parts are received, inspected, and sent to subassembly operations and painting. After completing this loop, the parts can be shipped as subassemblies after passing a final test or they can complete a second cycle consisting of final assembly, inspection and testing, painting, final testing, and shipping.

  1. CHECK SHEETS

Check sheets help organize data by category. They show how many times each particular value occurs, and their information is increasingly helpful as more data are collected. Check sheets minimize clerical work since the operator merely adds a mark to the tally on the prepared sheet rather than writing out a figure. By showing the frequency of a particular defect (e.g., in a molded part) and how often it occurs in a specific location, check sheets help operators spot problems.

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The check sheet example shows a list of molded part defects on a production line covering a week’s time. One can easily see where to set priorities based on results shown on this check sheet. Assuming the production flow is the same on each day, the part with the largest number of defects carries the highest priority for correction.

  1. PARETO DIAGRAMS

The Pareto diagram is named after Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th-century Italian economist who postulated that a large share of wealth is owned by a small percentage of the population. This basic principle translates well into quality problems—most quality problems result from a small number of causes. Quality experts often refer to the principle as the 80-20 rule; that is, 80% of problems are caused by 20% of the potential sources.

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A Pareto diagram puts data in a hierarchical order, which allows the most significant problems to be corrected first. The Pareto analysis technique is used primarily to identify and evaluate nonconformities, although it can summarize all types of data. It is perhaps the diagram most often used in management presentations.

  1. CAUSE AND EFFECT DIAGRAMS

The cause and effect diagram is sometimes called an Ishikawa diagram after its inventor. It is also known as a fish bone diagram because of its shape. A cause and effect diagram describes a relationship between variables. The undesirable outcome is shown as effect, and related causes are shown as leading to, or potentially leading to, the said effect. This popular tool has one severe limitation, however, in that users can overlook important, complex interactions between causes. Thus, if a problem is caused by a combination of factors, it is difficult to use this tool to depict and solve it.

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A fish bone diagram displays all contributing factors and their relationships to the outcome to identify areas where data should be collected and analyzed. The major areas of potential causes are shown as the main bones, e.g., materials, methods, people, measurement, machines, and design. Later, the subareas are depicted. Thorough analysis of each cause can eliminate causes one by one, and the most probable root cause can be selected for corrective action. Quantitative information can also be used to prioritize means for improvement, whether it be to machine, design, or operator.

  1. HISTOGRAMS

The histogram plots data in a frequency distribution table. What distinguishes the histogram from a check sheet is that its data are grouped into rows so that the identity of individual values is lost. Commonly used to present quality improvement data, histograms work best with small amounts of data that vary considerably. When used in process capability studies, histograms can display specification limits to show what portion of the data does not meet the specifications.

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After the raw data are collected, they are grouped in value and frequency and plotted in a graphical form. A histogram’s shape shows the nature of the distribution of the data, as well as central tendency (average) and variability. Specification limits can be used to display the capability of the process.

  1. SCATTER DIAGRAMS

A scatter diagram shows how two variables are related and is thus used to test for cause and effect relationships. It cannot prove that one variable causes the change in the other, only that a relationship exists and how strong it is.

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In a scatter diagram, the horizontal (x) axis represents the measurement values of one variable, and the vertical (y) axis represents the measurements of the second variable.

  1. CONTROL CHARTS

A control chart displays statistically determined upper and lower limits drawn on either side of a process average. This chart shows if the collected data are within upper and lower limits previously determined through statistical calculations of raw data from earlier trials.

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The construction of a control chart is based on statistical principles and statistical distributions, particularly the normal distribution. When used in conjunction with a manufacturing process, such charts can indicate trends and signal when a process is out of control. The center line of a control chart represents an estimate of the process mean; the upper and lower critical limits are also indicated. The process results are monitored over time and should remain within the control limits; if they do not, an investigation is conducted for the causes and corrective action taken. A control chart helps determine variability so it can be reduced as much as is economically justifiable.

In preparing a control chart, the mean upper control limit (UCL) and lower control limit (LCL) of an approved process and its data are calculated. A blank control chart with mean UCL and LCL with no data points is created; data points are added as they are statistically calculated from the raw data.

CONCLUSION: Many people in the medical device manufacturing industry are undoubtedly familiar with many of these tools and know their application, advantages, and limitations. However, manufacturers must ensure that these tools are in place and being used to their full advantage as part of their quality system procedures. Flowcharts and check sheets are most valuable in identifying problems, whereas cause and effect diagrams, histograms, scatter diagrams, and control charts are used for problem analysis. Pareto diagrams are effective for both areas. By properly using these tools, the problem-solving process can be more efficient and more effective.

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