This paper proposes max separation clustering (MSC), a new non-hierarchical clustering method used for feature extraction from optical emission spectroscopy (OES) data for plasma etch process control applications. OES data is high dimensional and inherently highly redundant with the result that it is difficult if not impossible to recognize useful features and key variables by direct visualization. MSC is developed for clustering variables with distinctive patterns and providing effective pattern representation by a small number of representative variables. The relationship between signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and clustering performance is highlighted, leading to a requirement that low SNR signals be removed before applying MSC. Experimental results on industrial OES data show that MSC with low SNR signal removal produces effective summarization of the dominant patterns in the data.