The problem I’m trying to solve is “How do I figure out how much gunpowder should I put into a cartridge so that I can give myself a good probability of making the minimum power factor?”
I compete in USPSA/IPSC which requires that a competitors rounds make a minimum power factor. Power Factor is computed to be the FLOOR(average bullet velocity * bullet weight) / 1000) where velocity is in feet per second, and bullet weight is in grains. Note the use of FLOOR. No rounding is done. Only the integral part of the computation is used. The higher the power factor, the higher the felt recoil and harder it is to quickly do follow up shots. Since the sport is about firing shots as quickly and as accurately as possible, the lower the recoil the better.
Different divisions within the sport have different power factor floors, but the particular division I compete in has a minimum of 165 Power Factor. The bullets I use are 180 gn bullets, and vary by about +/- 0.2 gn and is normally distributed.
What makes this an interesting problem (and move it out of my meager stats and probability skills) is the testing procedure during a major match. Random sample of 8 rounds are collected. Of the 8 rounds, one is taken apart and the bullet is weighed for use in the formula above. Next, 3 rounds are fired and the average velocity is used. If the resulting power factor is below the minimum, then another 3 rounds are fired. The average of the 3 fastest velocities from the 6 rounds fired is now used to compute the power factor. If the resulting power factor is still below the floor, then the shooter has the option of having the last round taken apart and weighed or the last round fired. If the bullet is taken apart and it is heavier than the first bullet, the heavier weight is used to compute the power factor. If the last round is fired, the average of the 3 fastest velocities from the 7 rounds fired is used to compute the power factor.
To add spice to this problem, not all chronographs used to measure bullet velocities are created equal. The chronograph industry acknowledges that there can be as much as +/- 4% variance between chronographs of different brands. Even more interesting is that the rules allow for the same chronograph used for a particular match to have +/- 4% variance over the duration of a match. I don’t know if either of these 4% variances are normally distributed or not.
With my own chronograph, I test batches of a particular gunpowder load to get the average velocity and standard deviation. After statistical analyses of many different batches, I’ve confirmed that this data is normally distributed.
The way I’m currently determining my minimum load is by finding the load the gives me 165 < FLOOR( target * 179.9 / 1000) where target = (average velocity - standard deviation) * fudge factor. For fudge factor, I’ve unscientifically chosen 1.04. The 0.04 is the 4% variance between chronographs, but ignores the day-to-day allowable variance. I chose to just subtract just 1 standard deviation because it’ll only be 16% of the time that one bullet will be below the floor. In my mind, the probability of all the first 3 bullets all going below the floor is 0.16^3 which less than half a percent.
My specific questions are: Am I going about computing the target the right way? Should my fudge factor include another 4% for the day-to-day variance allowed? Is the 1 standard deviation too much or too little? How should I write the formula for my target?
Edit: After Srikant's initial response below let me add a couple of focusing questions and notes.
I understand figuring out the error due to my measurements. Not much problem there unless I get really sloppy with quality control or maintenance.
My grasp of probabilities is weak so please bear with me as I ask about computing probabilities:
1) One of the key issues I need to deal with is figuring out how to correctly compute the probability for the testing process around the 7 rounds. It's pretty straight forward to me for the case of the first 3 rounds: (probability that the round is below the power flaw)^3. How do I account for the next 3 rounds and the last round?
I can see computing the probabilities using combinations of bullets above or below the floor, but it's not quite a binary above or below. Let's assume that 6 rounds have been fired, and the average of the highest 3 rounds is 164.9. If the last round has at least 165.2, then the average of the highest 3 rounds out of 7 will be 165.
2) The other issue I need to deal with is figuring out how to account for the 4% variance between my chrono and the match chrono, and how the match chrono is allowed to drift by 4% from day to day. Do I just assume the worst case and make sure that I'm at least 8% above 165 -- that is my rounds are shooting at least 179 power factor? Or do I try to assume some kind of normal distribution over the two 4% variances?