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by Kennedy Smith

Think of gaging software as the Dewey Decimal System of measurement equipment. Every caliper, micrometer, indicator, height gage and depth gage in a manufacturer's library is essentially "checked out" every time an operator uses it. This allows the organization to track how well each piece of equipment performs, schedule calibrations when they come due and trace accuracy to standards like that of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

But this Dewey Decimal system doesn't come in the form of a file cabinet and little index cards. On the contrary, this system takes the form of intuitive, interactive and highly precise software.

"There are a lot of aspects to a gage management system," explains Robert Brown, program manager of MeasurLink development at Mitutoyo America Corp. "There's the repeatability of the gage, the reproducibility of the gage, the reproducibility of an operator with the gage, the linearity of the gage, the bias of the gage with the operator and the stability of the gage over time." All of these aspects must be taken into account when choosing the right gaging software for your particular needs.

Gaging software packages come in two forms: dedicated and integrated. A dedicated software suite typically contains everything gage-related, which includes:

n A database of calibration records and procedures

n An interactive calibration schedule

n The capability to track gage locations

n The quick retrieval of calibration records

n Work order generation

n Report and gage label printing

n Production of calibration certificates

n The calculation of the uncertainty of gages

n Gage history reports

n Alerts when equipment becomes due for calibration

n Security alerts/locks when calibration is overdue

n Gage R&R studies with a variety of chart formats

Companies that have a need for only one or two types of these functions can purchase an integrated quality management software suite, which usually includes gage management components. "These are usually a component or module of a larger quality management suite, equipment maintenance or enterprise resource planning software system," notes Dave K. Banerjea, president of CyberMetrics Corp. "Integrated packages usually aren't as deep in features and functions as dedicated packages, but they do offer the advantage of integration with other company information systems."

For example, MeasurLink from Mitutoyo offers two gage-related applications in its quality management suite of statistical process control software--MeasurLink Gage R&R and MeasurLink Gage Management. "Because we're actually a data acquisition vendor, our system is designed so that the operator can check out a gage, count the actual number of parts that are measured with that gage and recall based upon actual usage," notes Brown. "We're one of the few single vendors that offer both a gage management and an SPC application."

Companies that outsource a good portion of their calibration may only need a simple inventory and calibration scheduling system. "Many of the integrated, or 'quality suite' packages do this very well," notes Banerjea. "The outside labs, of course, use dedicated gage calibration management systems due to their very specialized information needs." For customers that perform calibrations in-house or have metrology labs, he suggests software that is comprehensive and dedicated.

There's good news if you need to integrate with other company information systems: It's easier to do today than it was in the past. "I was just talking with a colleague of mine from another company, and we were both commenting on how there's been little change with gaging software," recalls Mike McCalley, marketing services manager at ASI DataMyte. "The trend now is the development of a suite that can interface with multiple platforms."

Many of the dedicated packages can run on Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and other databases that the larger ERP systems run on, notes Banerjea. "And middleware standards like ODBC allow for linkages between a dedicated package and larger business systems."

Other new developments include increased support for Internet and wireless connectivity. Built-in report designers are becoming increasingly popular, as more and more customers want to customize their software. And, although mainly required by FDA-regulated companies, there's an increasing demand for better security records and compliance with electronic signature requirements of 21 CFR Part 11.

Another important consideration before committing to any type of software--especially one that's responsible for tracking all of your gages--is cost. Depending on whether you need an all-encompassing gaging solution or just one or two gaging applications, the cost can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand per copy. A dedicated package will obviously cost more because of its higher-level support requirements. McCalley notes, however, that the purchase of a gaging software suite doesn't end at installation. Along with the purchase of gaging software comes free customer support, maintenance agreements, tutorials, low-cost upgrades when new versions become available and some sort of customer satisfaction guarantee.

So, what sets aside a good gaging software solution from a bad one? Banerjea says a good solution will stay current with industry standards such as ISO 9001:2000, QS-9000, ISO 10012, ISO/IEC 17025 and others. "Good solutions also take advantage of available technologies--such as the Internet, PDAs and client/server architectures--that increase productivity, reliability and flexibility. Good solutions offer superior customer support."

McCalley says it depends on the customer's needs. "A good solution is one that will meet all the customer's requirements," he explains. "A small company may have fewer gages, so they don't necessarily need anything highly sophisticated." On the other hand, larger companies like Boeing and DaimlerChrysler, have tens of thousands of gages in dozens of locations. These companies need a solution that can immediately mark the status of all gages, regardless of their location, notes McCalley.

Brown puts it simply, "A balance has to be struck between ease-of-use and comprehensive functionality." In other words, the system itself should be intuitive, and it must support the many different aspects of gage management and calibration.

The types of gaging solutions out there are as numerous as the types of companies that require them. The individual company is best suited to determine the best solution for its gaging needs. Taking into account all the aspects of dedicated and integrated solutions, and using the accompanying directory as a starting point, you're well on your way to finding the ideal gaging software for your company.

Although we have not evaluated, nor are we endorsing, any gaging software products, we're committed to providing you assistance in your quest for the right solution. To that end, we've included on page 42 a directory (complete with contact information) of companies that tell us they provide gaging software. Only those companies that responded to our requests for information are listed.

Gaging Software Providers

ASI DataMyte Inc.

14960 Minnetonka Road
Minnetonka, MN 55345
Ph. 952-935-7704 Fax 952-935-0018
www.datamyte.com

CyberMetrics Corp.

7500 E. Butherus Drive, Ste. 105
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Ph. 800-777-7020 Fax 480-922-7400
www.cybermetrics.com

Dimensional Data Systems

3387 Woodman Drive
Dayton, OH 45429
Ph. 937-299-5225 Fax 937-299-0698

Euro-Tech Corp.

N. 48 W. 14170 Hampton Ave.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051
Ph. 262-781-6777 Fax 262-781-2822
www.eurotechcorp.com

Flexbar Machine Corp.

250 Gibbs Road
Islandia, NY 11749
Ph. 800-879-7575 Fax 631-582-8487
www.flexbar.com

IBS

125 Hartwell Ave.
Lexington, MA 02421
Ph. 781-862-9002 Fax 781-862-9003
www.qualitysys.com

The Harrington Group Inc.

11501 Lake Underhill Road
Orlando, FL 32825
Ph. 800-476-9000 Fax 407-382-6141
www.hginet.com

IndySoft Corp.

1200 Woodruff Road, Ste. H-11
Greenville, SC 29607
Ph. 864-627-8858 Fax 603-754-9531
www.indysoft.com

JBL Systems Inc.

51410 Milano
Macomb, MI 48042
Ph. 888-525-7978 Fax 586-677-5700
www.jblsys.com

Measure-All Inc.

447 Nilles Road
Fairfield, OH 45014
Ph. 800-758-2376 Fax 513-829-1105
www.measure-all.com

Midwest FlexSystems Inc.

415 S.B. Chavez Drive
Flint, MI 48503
Ph. 810-424-0060 Fax 810-424-0066
www.midwestflex.com

 

Minitab Inc.

3081 Enterprise Drive
State College, PA 16801
Ph. 800-488-3555 Fax 814-238-1702
www.minitab.com

Mitutoyo America Corp. (MeasurLink)

965 Corporate Blvd.
Aurora, IL 60504
Ph. 630-820-9666 Fax 630-820-7403
www.measurlink.com

Omnex Systems

3025 Boardwalk, Ste. 120
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Ph. 734-761-4940 Fax 734-747-6368
www.omnexsystems.com

Osborn Products Inc.

1127 W. Melinda Lane
Phoenix, AZ 85027
Ph. 623-587-0335 Fax 623-582-1387
www.osbornproducts.com

Pister Group Inc.

550 Eglinton Ave. W.
Toronto, ON M5N 3A8 Canada
Ph. 905-886-9470 Fax 905-764-6405
www.pister.com

PQ Systems Inc.

10468 Miamisburg-Springboro Road
Miamisburg, OH 45342
Ph. 800-777-3020 Fax 937-885-2252
www.pqsystems.com

QualiFine Industries Inc.

975 E. Nerge Road, Ste. N140
Roselle, IL 60172
Ph. 888-317-4820 Fax 630-295-8454
www.qualifine.com

Qualitron Systems Inc.

1673 Star Batt Drive
Rochester Hills, MI 48309
Ph. 889-569-7094 Fax 248-299-0000
www.qualitronsystems.com

Software Technology

3310 Norfolk Drive
Cookeville, TN 38506
Ph. 931-537-6181 Fax 931-537-6813
www.softwaretechnologytn.com

Tri-Star Gage Inc.

78 Granby St.
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Ph. 800-364-9389 Fax 860-243-2540
www.tri-stargage.com

About the author

Kennedy Smith is Quality Digest's assistant editor. Letters to the editor regarding this article can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.