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ST: 1 What is it

Revision Date: 2005-09-06

Capability analysis is a set of calculations used to assess whether a system is statistically able to meet a set of specifications or requirements. To complete the calculations, a set of data is required, usually generated by a control chart; however, data can be collected specifically for this purpose.

Specifications or requirements are the numerical values within which the system is expected to operate, that is, the minimum and maximum acceptable values. Occasionally there is only one limit, a maximum or minimum. Customers, engineers, or managers usually set specifications. Specifications are numerical requirements, goals, aims, or standards. It is important to remember that specifications are not the same as control limits. Control limits come from control charts and are based on the data. Specifications are the numerical requirements of the system.

All methods of capability analysis require that the data is statistically stable, with no special causes of variation present. To assess whether the data is statistically stable, a control chart should be completed. If special causes exist, data from the system will be changing. If capability analysis is performed, it will show approximately what happened in the past, but cannot be used to predict capability in the future. It will provide only a snapshot of the process at best. If, however, a system is stable, capability analysis shows not only the ability of the system in the past, but also, if the system remains stable, predicts the future performance of the system.

Capability analysis is summarized in indices; these indices show a system’s ability to meet its numerical requirements. They can be monitored and reported over time to show how a system is changing. Various capability indices are presented in this section; however, the main indices used are Cp and Cpk. The indices are easy to interpret; for example, a Cpk of more than one indicates that the system is producing within the specifications or requirements. If the Cpk is less than one, the system is producing data outside the specifications or requirements. This section contains detailed explanations of various capability indices and their interpretation.

Capability analysis is an excellent tool to demonstrate the extent of an improvement made to a process. It can summarize a great deal of information simply, showing the capability of a process, the extent of improvement needed, and later the extent of the improvement achieved.

Capability indices help to change the focus from only meeting requirements to continuous improvement of the process. Traditionally, the focus has been to reduce the proportion of product or service that does not meet specifications, using measures such as percentage of nonconforming product. Capability indices help to reduce the variation relative to the specifications or requirements, achieving increasingly higher Cp and Cpk values.

Before capability analysis is completed, a histogram and control chart need to be completed.


See also:
 2 What does it look like?
 3 When is it used?
 4 How is it made?

The above article is an excerpt of the "Capability Analysis" section of Practical Tools for Continuous Improvement Volume 1 Statistical Tools.

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