What Is Process Control? (Definition, Benefits And Examples)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 30 September 2022

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Businesses use sophisticated systems and techniques to maintain efficiency and productivity. Such controls on business processes help optimise manufacturing, ensure conformity, increase compliance and safety, minimise production costs and improve output. Learning about process control can help you apply the concept and leverage its benefits. In this article, we find the answer to, 'What is process control?', explain its objectives and benefits and provide examples of industries using process control techniques.

What is process control?

Knowing the answer to 'What is process control?' can help you understand why it is crucial for increasing business revenue and profit. Process control is the method to monitor, manage, adjust and moderate any process to ensure consistent quality, maintain conformity and reduce wastage. Process control helps businesses get the desired output in manufacturing and production processes. Most industries deploy some degree of automation and machines in process control operations to reduce the margin of error and achieve a level of consistency and safety that is tough or impossible to achieve by human control alone.

Process control makes it easier to monitor, ensure or eliminate output results by making process occurrences predictable and expected. The complexity of process control operations and systems can vary significantly. Depending on the number of variables and steps in the production process, controlling it can be extremely simple or complex. Software and system development, instrumentation, monitoring systems, sensors, quality assurance, data analytics and engineering are some essential components and disciplines that help implement process control techniques.

Related: A Quick Guide To Operations Management Responsibilities

Objectives of process control

There are a few essential elements of process control that help businesses achieve the following objectives:

  • Conformity: Process control helps manufacture goods that conform to the same quality and customer expectations and reduces malfunctions or defects. This is particularly important in industries like automotive, electronics and food processing.

  • Quality control: By ensuring the precision and accuracy of processes, these systems help businesses manufacture products of desired quality standards. Quality control is vital for industries like pharmaceuticals, automotive, food and beverages, water treatment and power generation.

  • Troubleshooting production challenges: Process control helps identify manufacturing issues and alerts businesses to potential complications in the production process. By troubleshooting challenges timely, such systems help improve efficiency, reduce production timelines and ensure smooth supply chain operations.

  • Minimising waste: While some wastage of resources and raw materials is inevitable in manufacturing processes, process control mechanisms can help reduce or even eliminate such wastage or scrap. It also helps reduce the requirement for rework, as the accuracy and quality standards are consistent.

Related: What Is A Production Manager? (Duties And Qualifications)

Benefits of process control

Process control can have several business benefits:

  • Reduces overhead expenses: Process control systems help decrease overhead costs by optimising the use of raw materials, reducing the depreciation of equipment and improving compliance. Overhead expenses can account for a major part of production processes, so regulating them can have a significant impact on the company's business performance.

  • Improves safety and compliance: Process control systems use machine automation to improve the accuracy and safety of manufacturing production processes and reduce the exposure of employees to dangerous working conditions. This improves security and compliance in the workplace, alongside helping employees feel safer and satisfied.

  • Enhances production capacity: These systems can help increase maximum production capacity without additional expenditure or investment while increasing automation and reducing human intervention. This can enable businesses to take more orders, increase business revenue and use their workforce more efficiently.

  • Improves sustainability of business operations: Process control systems can make business processes more energy-efficient by reducing wastage, improving productivity and enabling machines to operate at their maximum capacity. They can also help businesses reduce their carbon emissions by identifying processes in the supply chain that are the most polluting and regulating them more effectively.

Related: What Is Production Engineering? Degree, Opportunities And Skills

Industries that use process control techniques

Process control is common in industries with a continuous production cycle that operates without interruption. Digital and electronic devices also require sophisticated process control systems to ensure consistent performance. Here is how different industries deploy these techniques:

Chemical processing and refining

Most chemical processing and refining facilities use process control systems to ensure consistent quality and output. The processing requires accurate measurements of chemical agents and refiners in a specific order and ratio for maximum efficiency and safety. Manufacturers producing solvents, paints, construction material, plastic products or other consumer goods follow control processes to ensure the precision of components. Chemists also use control techniques to automate the measurement and mixing of ingredients for research purposes.

Automotive manufacturing

Companies producing automobiles parts and combining them require to do so in a specific order. These parts are also sensitive and require additional care in handling. It is imperative to ensure the quality and durability of automobile products so that the vehicles can operate with maximum passenger safety for a long time. Process control techniques can help make the assembly and production of such products efficient by automating them. It can also help test crucial components, like the brake and clutch, to ensure high quality and safety.

Related: What Does A Manufacturing Engineer Do? (Salary And Skills)

Medicine and pharmaceutical

The production of medicinal and intravenous drugs requires combining different ingredients and chemicals in the exact measurement and order. Process control helps prepare medications that require precision to a degree of millilitre or microlitre. These techniques also help ensure that the ingredients are active and healthy to consume. Process control allows pharmaceutical companies to manufacture medicines and drugs at scale with the exact same chemical composition, safety and stability.

Water purification and supply

The process of water treatment and purification relies extensively on process control techniques to ensure that water from different sources and variable composition converts into portable water with the same composition. These systems help moderate the flow of input water, maintain the quality of the filters and help ensure that the quality of output is water within the permissible limits. Even the delivery of water uses process control systems to ensure constant flow and pressure of water. Automated systems equipped with sensors measure water flow, regulate it to ensure uniform distribution and identify leakages.

Original equipment manufacturing

Businesses maintain strict process control systems to ensure that their manufacturing facilities operate at lower overhead expenses and higher efficiency. This allows them to remain competitive in the industry and attract more customers by consistently offering high-quality products. All types of original equipment manufacturing or OEM and industrial companies use these systems. Common examples include manufacturers of semiconductors, storage devices, steel, auto parts and related products.

Paper and related products

Paper and other pulp products have the same quality, strength, density, formation, brightness, smoothness, colour, gloss and opacity. This can be challenging as the source of all paper and pulp products is wood, which can vary in quality and composition significantly. Process control strategies in this industry help make continuous adjustments to the manufacturing process and ensure that the output has consistent properties.

Food manufacturing and processing

From pasteurisation of milk to processing meat products, all food companies require process control to automate the production and processing of products from plants and animals. This helps maintain the safety of the food products and ensures that they have the same taste, quality, texture and shelf life. These techniques also help maximise the output of the manufacturing or processing plant and improve efficiency.

Process control examples

Here are three examples of process control systems and techniques in different industries:

Desalination of water

Consider the example of the desalination of seawater or saltwater. In the reverse-osmosis process of desalination, the system that monitors the performance of the membrane determines when it requires a change or cleaning. When the desalination capacity of the membrane falls below a specific limit, the system takes the necessary action.

Computer logic controller

Any electrical computer logic controller is a complex device with several acting points and supplemental instrumentation feedback systems. As the computer logic controller has several functions, the process control system accounts for different outcomes to ensure conformity. This requires specialised process control software, hardware components, circuits, monitoring systems, data processors, sensors and other devices.

Nuclear power plant

The operations of a nuclear power plant are a great example of how process control systems and feedback loops work. The output of a nuclear plant depends on the nuclear rods, which absorb the energy that the nuclear process releases. When the power output reaches very high levels, the sensors in the system lower the control rods to absorb more energy to regulate the output. Once the output levels drop, the sensors adjust the rods to maintain an optimum output level. This feedback loop works continuously and helps keep the power output within the required levels.

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