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By Rich Burnham

During the 1920s, a British statistician named Ronald Fisher put the finishing touches on a method for making breakthrough discoveries. Some 70 years later, Fisher's method, now known as design of experiments, has become a powerful software tool for engineers and researchers.

But why did it take engineers so long to begin using DOE for innovative problem solving? After all, they were ignoring a technique that would have produced successes similar to the following modern-day examples:

• John Deere Engine Works in Waterloo, Iowa, uses DOE software to improve the adhesion of its highly identifiable green paint onto aluminum. In the process, the company has discovered how to eliminate an expensive chromate-conversion procedure. Savings: $500,000 annually.

• Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, learns via DOE software that it needs only to retool an existing machine instead of making a huge capital purchase for a new one. The solution means improved, light-sealing film-pack clips used by professional photographers. Savings: Setup time drops from eight hours to 20 minutes; scrap reduces by a factor of 10, repeatability increases to 100 percent and $200,000 is not spent on a new machine.