Quality Software
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Made Easy

by S-Matrix

Software review by by Lee D. Dawson

I recently attempted to get on one of the 10-speed mountain bikes in my garage. In doing so, I proved the old saying about never really forgetting how to ride a bicycle.

Unfortunately, designed experiments and their proper execution are not like riding a bicycle. Until now, I have found it difficult to retain my facility with design of experiments to be efficient. Because I use it infrequently, I lose a lot of time planning the experiment and analyzing results.

Enter S-Matrix's CARD, an interesting and efficient solution to planning, analyzing and reporting designed experiments. (CARD stands for Computer Aided Research and Development.) The software neatly walks the user through the complete DOE process, using reasonably clear instructions and Wizards.

The first true test -- ease of installation -- sometimes can present a problem with technical software, but my teenage daughter successfully installed CARD. Then, with tutorials completed, program familiarity established and anticipation growing, I tested it in the field.

Selecting a simple three-factor, two-level experiment on an injection molding process, I launched the navigator Wizard, which asks a few questions to nail down the proper experiment type. The questions are straightforward and easy to respond to, thanks to the on-screen explanations and a definitions help menu. The software provides screens for entering the variable name, units of measure, ranges for the levels and other pertinent details. With the proper experimental design, variables and ranges selected, I launched the design generator to ensure satisfactory design content. Again, the navigator Wizard served as a guide.

CARD analyzes the experiment before execution to ensure that the inputs will achieve desired outputs. People who ignore this step and rush to the experimental runs frequently find they must rerun the experiment because they overlooked a key item.

The program supplies forms for running the experiment and recording the responses throughout the testing organizer. Another convenient feature allows the addition of variables after the experiment has begun, such as an environmental issue, and the day or shift, if they appear to be factors.

Data analysis requires exporting the raw data/information into a customized Excel 5.0 spreadsheet, accomplished reasonably well by the program. You also can import data from other spreadsheet programs such as QuattroPro or from competing SPC or DOE packages such as Minitab or Statistica.

The subsequent automated analysis features provisions to change the data or design if an experimental "run" is compromised or corrupted. This proved convenient for my experiment when an unsuspecting production technician interrupted one run. Because the program uses Excel, I could easily plot results for a pictorial view of the analysis. The CARD software also offers graphics options.

Overall, the program worked without glitches, and the output was the best I have seen for DOE. My only question concerned the absence of Plackett-Burman designs and/or Taguchi-style experiments, used extensively in the automotive industry. S-Matrix explained they deliberately left these out because their designs perform better, provide more information, require fewer runs and have a recoverable design strategy.

CARD makes designed experiments much easier for those of us who employ these techniques infrequently. I won't necessarily run more experiments now that I have a software package that eases the burden of designing efficient experiments, but CARD takes some headache out of the process and has earned its space on my hard drive.

System requirements: CARD runs under Windows 3.1 or later, Windows for Workgroups 3.1 or later, Windows 95 or Windows NT. Windows must be operating in enhanced mode. Because CARD interacts with Excel, you must have Excel version 5.0 or later, or version 7.0. Excel's Solver Add-In must be installed and activated.

Price: $795 for stand-alone or network. Discounts available for more than five users.

Educational pricing: $149 for faculty; includes unlimited consulting. For students: $79 without manuals, $99 with manuals.

Contact: S-Matrix Corp.
835 Third St.
Eureka, CA  95501
Telephone: (800) 336-8428 or
(707) 441-0404
Fax: (707) 441-0410
Web: www.s-matrix-corp.com


About the author

Lee D. Dawson is president of Quality Associates International Inc., headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan. A quality professional with 22 years' experience, he is a metallurgical engineer and an ASQ certified quality engineer. QAI Inc. specializes in reliability/quality, advanced quality product development and risk abatement strategies. For more information, call QAI at (313) 565-6266 or visit their Web site at www.quality-one.com.


Document Control

Document Control
by Pilgrim Software

Software review by Dirk Dusharme

One of six modules from Pilgrim Software's Quality and Manufacturing Integrated System, Document Control promises to meet and exceed the requirements of ISO 9000 for document control, process control and quality records.

Document Control allows users to view existing controlled documents, generate new documents, submit change requests or start a revision on a current document, all from stand-alone or networked Windows workstations. The fully automated routing and approval process follows the rules set up for each document. Notification, handled by Document Control's internal notification system, either appears as a pop-up to-do list when a user logs in or circulates externally via e-mail. The result is a paperless document control system that tracks a document from birth to grave.

This software functions much like a company's traditional paperbound document control system, even maintaining multiple current revisions of a document.

At its simplest level, the program's document creation and security is easy to set up. First, the originator assigns the document to a document type, a user-defined template of characteristics that includes the approval and notification lists, document numbering system, viewing and editing access, document security and so forth. Assigning a document to a type eliminates the need to re-enter this information for each similar new document. Users can override these parameters for specific documents. After assigning document type, the originator is prompted for information specific to that document, including the title, description, originator's name and application used to create the document. He or she then checks the document into the "vault," deleting the original if desired. One mouse click starts the automated approval process.

Document Control allows serial and/or parallel approval routing. The originator assigns a level to each person on the approval list. As soon as all level-one approvers sign off on a document (parallel notification), the document moves to all level-two approvers (serial notification) and so forth.

To create a change request, the user simply fills out an electronic change request form. This form is routed to the document originator, who assigns a person to implement the change (i.e., start a revision).

To create a revision, users check the current document out of the vault, notify the system that a revision is in process, launch the application associated with that document, make their changes and start the approval process. Once a document is approved, the originator issues the document, which then takes the place of the old one in the vault. Document Control provides complete revision history and traceability reports for documents and change requests.

The program is fairly easy to learn for users who will only input or view documents. The how-to guide is very well laid out and includes flowcharts illustrating each function. In fact, the documentation is about the best we've seen for a complex package. The system supervisor, however, would be well-advised to get training. Without it, most users will find the extensive user rights and advanced configuration options difficult to decipher.

Some caution must be used when creating revisions. Because users may want to reference the original document, Pilgrim allows them to keep the document where it is while storing a controlled copy in the vault. We found it too easy to inadvertently use the original uncontrolled document when creating a revision. A warning message would resolve this.

Other things we'd like to see: The program allows change requests to be marked "complete" before starting a revision. Pilgrim says this allows more flexibility, but we would like to see requests stay on a supervisor's to-do list until a revision begins on that document. We'd also like a warning when two different revisions of the same document are being worked on simultaneously.

We liked this package, mainly because of Pilgrim's customer-centered focus and willingness to integrate customer suggestions into its software and manuals. This alone almost guarantees that Document Control will evolve into an even more useful tool.

System requirements: 486SX/25MHz computer; 4 MB RAM, 10 MB hard-disk space for the program and 60 MB for data; monochrome or color display; narrow-carriage dot matrix printer; Windows 3.1, Windows 95 or Windows NT; any DOS-compatible network, such as Novell Netware, IBM or LAN Manager.

Price: Single user -- $649
Contact: Pilgrim Software Inc.
P.O. Box 340250
Tampa, FL  33694
Telephone: (813) 915-1663
Fax: (813) 915-1948
Web: www.pilgrimusa.com


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