What Is Process Control? (Elements, Benefits and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many businesses look for ways to improve their efficiency, maintain worker safety and produce higher-quality goods. Process control allows businesses to achieve all of those goals simultaneously while saving them from long-term expenses such as unnecessary production costs and workplace accidents. If you work in an industry of continuous production, understanding this can lead to numerous advantages in terms of output, expenses and compliance.

In this article, we define process control and its key elements, share the primary types of processes, list some of the industries that implement it, discuss the benefits it can provide and offer a couple of examples to help guide your understanding.

What is process control?

Process control refers to methods used to manage the variables in the development, manufacture and transport of a product. The idea behind it is to attain conformity and consistent quality while limiting waste and improving production efficiency. It commonly implements automation to:

  • limit the possibility of human error

  • allow for a more detailed analysis of conformity, quality and efficiency

  • provide for programmed uniform changes to production and manufacturing processes

Regardless of the entity using it, it tends to consist of these common key elements:

  • Conformity: In manufacturing and production, conformity means demonstrating the ability to meet the specifications and requirements outlined in the approval documentation. Conformity is essential for strong relationships with clients because it not only evidences compliance with standards of safety and design but also demonstrates attentiveness to client preferences.

  • Quality: Using these methods, an organisation can standardise its production so that it consistently meets quality standards, often via automation in areas that call for high levels of precision. As a result of producing higher-quality goods, the organisation can attract a broader range of customers and thereby gain an advantage over its competitors.

  • Troubleshooting: It encourages the use of systems that can help to overcome challenges that arise during production. Such systems can minimise the time and effort spent on trying to resolve complex issues, thereby enhancing supply chain efficiency and facilitating the delivery of goods.

  • Waste minimisation: Waste is any activity that doesn't add value to the product or provide value to the customer, such as time spent transporting materials or keeping products in inventory. Minimising waste reduces expenses, and these methods can help to eliminate some waste automatically.

Related: What Are Automated Industries? (Definition and Examples)

Types of processes

It's important to be familiar with the primary types of processes associated with it. There are three unique types, with a fourth type being a hybrid of the three. The three process types are:

Discrete

A discrete process refers to the production of an individual component of a product. The term discrete suggests that the process occurs in a degree of isolation. Such processes are common in manufacturing.

Batch

A batch process involves the combination of raw materials. Such processes require specific measurements and sequences of combination. Otherwise, the outcome may not be as desired. Said outcome can be either an intermediate or an end product. Only after producing the specified amounts of the product can the producer move on to a subsequent batch.

Continuous

In a continuous process, materials move through every stage until the creation of the final product. There's no need to wait for the completion of a product to introduce new raw materials. The process is ongoing. Plastic or chemical production would be an example of a continuous process.

Industries that use process control

Various industries can apply these methods to some degree, though a few industries are more likely than others to use them. Here are some of those industries:

Manufacturing

Manufacturers often have an increased need to control their manufacturing processes to compete in their industry. Businesses that can reduce manufacturing overhead through automation often sell products to consumers at lower costs, creating a competitive advantage. These methods are especially important in types of manufacturing that require precision because they help eliminate human error and ensure a high-quality product.

Chemistry

Many chemical processes require exact measurements and specific mixing techniques to ensure the safety and efficacy of a product. For instance, medications, construction materials, plastics and cleaning supplies often involve particular chemical processes in their production. Chemical engineers can more easily attain precision on a large scale using these techniques, such as the use of automated measuring and mixing machines.

Related: 14 Types of Engineering Jobs (With Salary Information)

Automotive manufacturing

Automotive manufacturers make automobile parts and then combine them in a specific order. Many of these parts require extensive care during construction to ensure that motor vehicles can operate safely for several years after purchase. For example, it can help automate the construction of complex machinery, such as engines and clutch systems, to assure quality and conformity.

Pharmaceuticals

There are many reasons to use it in the pharmaceutical industry, such as to ensure chemical compounds are healthy to consume and can meet essential medical purposes. For instance, many medications require that measurements of chemical compounds are precise to the millilitre or microlitre. Mass-produced compounds that require that amount of precision can benefit immensely from automated measuring.

Related: 10 Careers in the Biopharmaceutical Sub-Industries

Water supply

Because water is a necessity, it's an important deliverable for which to establish a process. To ensure the constant delivery of water, many organisations use the fundamentals of process control, establishing automated systems that monitor the continuous flow of water through the system. Some such systems ensure the flow of water to homes even if a leak arises within the systems themselves.

4 benefits of process control

Using these methods can provide organisations with several benefits, namely:

1. Lower overhead costs

Overhead costs are the expenses required to run a business, excluding those directly associated with the creation of goods or services. Common overhead costs include rent, utilities, salaries, insurance and employee benefits. Using these methods, businesses can lower their overhead costs in several ways. For instance, because it helps to minimise waste, a business can spend less money on activities such as replacing materials and redoing work, all of which relate to its overhead. Also, the relationship between process control and safety compliance could bring about reductions in insurance costs.

Related: How to Calculate Manufacturing Overhead (With Examples)

2. Safer work environments

The automation associated with these methods effectively removes employees from harm's way. Machinery performs the activities that humans previously had, meaning that employees have less exposure to hazards. In turn, the workplace sees a decrease in accidents, incidents and near-misses.

The improvement in safety may help organisations to realise an increase in employee morale as well. When employees see their work environment as safe, they're more likely to believe their employers are concerned about them. As a result, they may become more engaged with their work and more satisfied with their working conditions.

Related: What Is a Control Chart? (With Examples, Benefits and Uses)

3. Higher production

The automation and efficiency standards of process control are likely to improve the production capability of an organisation. With minimal waste, the producer can spend more time creating valuable goods and less time idling. The production becomes continuous, so the output increases.

4. Improved product quality and profits

When these methods are effective, it leads to the production of consistently high-quality products that meet agreed-upon specifications. In the marketplace, higher-quality products often result in more revenue, as consumers often want what's best that serves their needs. The ideal results are a competitive advantage and greater market share.

Examples of process control

To help you better understand this topic, consider these two examples:

Example 1

Here's an example of a company conducting research:

Nova Tech is a biomedical research company. It's currently conducting research on pluripotent stem cells. One step in its research requires precise measurements of several chemical compounds, plus continuous mixing of various compounds for over 24 hours. The company uses automated machinery to complete both tasks, with both a mechanised measuring system and a digital stirrer.

Example 2

Review this example of a mining company:

Cross-Pacific Company is a mining company. It recently replaced a portion of its workforce with automated mining machinery. This machinery not only mines more efficiently but also works on a continuous schedule. Moreover, it reduces safety concerns associated with sending employees into hazardous mines.

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