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Process control is a statistics and engineering discipline that deals with architectures, mechanisms and algorithms for maintaining the output of a specific process within a desired range. See also control theory.
Process control is extensively used in industry and enables mass production of continuous processes such as oil refining, paper manufacturing, chemicals, power plants and many other industries. Process control enables automation, with which a small staff of operating personnel can operate a complex process from a central control room.
For example, heating up the temperature in a room is a process that has the specific, desired outcome to reach and maintain a defined temperature (e.g. 20°C), kept constant over time. Here, the temperature is the controlled variable. At the same time, it is the input variable since it is measured by a thermometer and used to decide whether to heat or not to heat. The desired temperature (20°C) is the setpoint. The state of the heater (e.g. the setting of the valve allowing hot water to flow through it) is called the manipulated variable since it is subject to control actions.
A commonly used control device called a programmable logic controller, or a PLC, is used to read a set of digital and analog inputs, apply a set of logic statements, and generate a set of analog and digital outputs. Using the example in the previous paragraph, the room temperature would be an input to the PLC. The logical statements would compare the setpoint to the input temperature and determine whether more or less heating was necessary to keep the temperature constant. A PLC output would then either open or close the hot water valve, an incremental amount, depending on whether more or less hot water was needed. Larger more complex systems can be controlled by a Distributed Control System (DCS) or SCADA system.
Types of control systems 
In practice, process control systems can be characterized as one or more of the following forms:
- Discrete – Found in many manufacturing, motion and packaging applications. Robotic assembly, such as that found in automotive production, can be characterized as discrete process control. Most discrete manufacturing involves the production of discrete pieces of product, such as metal stamping.
- Batch – Some applications require that specific quantities of raw materials be combined in specific ways for particular durations to produce an intermediate or end result. One example is the production of adhesives and glues, which normally require the mixing of raw materials in a heated vessel for a period of time to form a quantity of end product. Other important examples are the production of food, beverages and medicine. Batch processes are generally used to produce a relatively low to intermediate quantity of product per year (a few pounds to millions of pounds).
- Continuous – Often, a physical system is represented through variables that are smooth and uninterrupted in time. The control of the water temperature in a heating jacket, for example, is an example of continuous process control. Some important continuous processes are the production of fuels, chemicals and plastics. Continuous processes in manufacturing are used to produce very large quantities of product per year (millions to billions of pounds).
Applications having elements of discrete, batch and continuous process control are often called hybrid applications.
Statistical process control 
Statistical process control (SPC) is an effective method of monitoring a process through the use of control charts. Much of its power lies in the ability to monitor both the current center of a process and the process's variation about that center. By collecting data from samples at various points within the process, variations in the process that may affect the quality of the end product or service can be detected and corrected, thus reducing waste as well as the likelihood that problems will be passed on to the customer. It has an emphasis on early detection and prevention of problems.
A thermostat is a simple example for a closed control loop: It constantly measures the current temperature and controls the heater's valve setting to increase or decrease the room temperature according to the user-defined setting. A simple method switches the heater either completely on, or completely off, and an overshoot and undershoot of the controlled temperature must be expected. A more expensive method varies the amount of heat provided by the heater depending on the difference between the required temperature (the "setpoint") and the actual temperature. This minimizes over/undershoot.
An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is a more complex example, consisting of multiple inputs, conditions and outputs.