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More than just gee-whiz gadgetry, the Web has reached into even this most conservative industry niche.

by Dirk Dusharme

Any company that manufactures a product requiring precision measurement understands the importance of properly maintained and calibrated gages: A product is only as accurate as the gage that inspects it. Just as important as maintaining gages is the maintenance of gage calibration records--the paper or electronic history of when and how gages were calibrated, the results of calibration studies, which gages are next due for calibration, and even where a gage is currently located. The larger or more geographically diverse the company, the more critical, and difficult, gage tracking and management becomes. To minimize errors and the amount of work required for gage management, a vast number of software products have been developed. The functions and benefits of these packages have been covered in previous articles and buyers guides and won't be covered here. Instead, we'll look at the latest addition to gage management software that will prove to be helpful for both in-house gage labs and contract labs: Web-enabled gage management software.

 For our purposes, we define Web-enabled gage-management software as any gage-management package that makes gage data available through a Web browser. Reporting can be done in real-time or through stored HTML documents, and be read-only (reports only) or fully Web-capable with complete data input and reporting capabilities.

The following companies sell Web-enabled gage management software:

Blue Mountain Quality Resources Inc.

  • Ph: (814) 234-2417
  • www.coolblue.com
  • Product: Calibration Manager
  • Exports HTML suitable for posting to a Web site or for e-mailing

CyberMetrics Corp.

DataMyte/Rockwell Automation

  • Ph: (952) 935-7704
  • www.datamyte.com
  • Product: Engage!
  • Exports HTML suitable for posting to a Web site or for e-mailing

Hertzler Systems Inc.

  • Ph: (219) 533-0571
  • www.hertzler.com
  • Product: GainSeeker GageTrol
  • Real-time Web-based reporting

IndySoft Corp.

  • Ph: 864-627-8858
  • www.indysoft.com
  • Product: Gage Insite
  • Fully Web-capable with reporting and data input capabilities

IQS Inc.

  • Ph: (440) 333-1344
  • www.iqs.com
  • Product: IQS Calibrate
  • Fully Web-capable with reporting and data input capabilities

Norfox Software Inc.

  • Ph: (425) 774-9118
  • Product: Labmate
  • www.norfox.com
  • Real-time Web-based reporting

Pilgrim Software

  • Ph: (813) 915-1663
  • www.pilgrimusa.com
  • Product: Calibration Systems, a Q&MIS module
  • Real-time Web-based reporting

Pister Group Inc.

  • Ph: (905) 886-9470
  • www.pister.com
  • Product: QC-PRO Gage Control
  • Real-time Web-based reporting



 More than simply glitz and gee-whiz, the Web has penetrated the nuts and bolts of industry, including gage management. Although it's a little early to tell, most gage management software producers believe there's a real market emerging for Web-enabled gage management products, predominantly as a means of making gage reports and status available to a large and often geographically distant audience. Currently, remote sites either have to run a networked version of their gage management software in all locations that require access to the data or depend upon faxed or e-mailed reports. The former option results in added cost, complexity and software maintenance; the latter in lag time--the duration between request and receipt of a report. A Web-based product, on the other hand, uses free software and gives instantaneous reports from virtually any computer on any kind of network.

 "If you have a company that is widespread geographically and you want to check on instruments at other sites, with a browser-based application the manager can run reports from sites across the ocean," explains Dave Banerjea, president of Michigan-based CyberMetrics Corp., maker of Gagetrak, which produces Web-based gage reports on demand.

 The value of Web-based reporting isn't just for in-house use, he continues. For companies that outsource their gage calibration, Web-reporting allows instantaneous communication of gage information between the company and the calibration lab.

 "The calibration house could have access via the Web to your calibration records and could maintain them for you instead of you having to remind the calibration house," says Banerjea. A company could set a goal of offloading its entire gage management to its contract lab. The company maintains the records and works with the lab to set up calibration schedules, but from then on the lab can use any Web browser to run reports from the company database and determine which gages are due for calibration, he explains.

 For the average shop-floor user, easy accessibility to gage status means that determining gage availability is simply a matter of going to the nearest computer--no need to call the gage lab. An extension of this applies to product development. Eclipse Inc., an industrial burner manufacturer, purchased Gagetrak so that engineers could see if the company had the right gages to inspect a product prior to its release.

 Although some cringe at the thought of giving too much advance information to an auditor, a Web-enabled gage management system also could help speed calibration audits. The auditor could log into the gage management software using a browser and examine records prior to the actual visit, in order to help focus the audit time on the areas that need the most scrutiny.

 Increased participation from employees, customers and suppliers is an added plus, observes Chris Parsons, director of marketing for Pilgrim Software (producers of Q&MIS). It may even be a mandate as far as the auto industry is concerned. "The time-to-market imperative, particularly in the automotive industry, makes Web-enabled products very attractive," he explains. "Web-enabled products offer industry the advantage of greatly enhanced collaboration along the supply chain. Old obstacles, such as time, distance and incompatible information systems, are now bridged."

 QS-9000 is the automotive industry's primary motivation to adopt Web-enabled products. The automotive quality standard pushes the entire supply chain to share information up and down the line. The easiest way to do this is with a cross-platform solution, precisely what Web-enabled applications provide.

 There's one more bonus: reduced cost. Most gage management packages can be networked, but this arrangement means there must be a copy of the gage software running on each workstation where the user wants access to gage data. Networked versions of gage software can cost thousands of dollars, with each additional workstation license running hundreds of dollars per copy. IndySoft, a key player in gage management software, sells its networked version of Gage Insite for $1,495 for a base license, with additional licenses running more than $1,000 per copy, depending on how many are purchased. The fully Web-compatible version costs about $5,000.

 "For our large aerospace customers this could mean savings of $100,000 to $200,000" says Rhett Price, chief technology officer at IndySoft Corp. "For large enterprise customers like those, there are real savings in a Web-deployed product. They just put it on a Web server and everybody has access to it."

 Hertzler, whose Gainseeker GageTrol product produces HTML reports on demand, expects that the cost savings and easy accessibility to gage data will lead more than 20 percent of their customers toward a Web-enabled product.

 While these cost savings are great for the customer, what's the motivation for the software company? As with most issues related to the Internet, Web-enabling a product has been a case of the tail wagging the dog. If one company releases a Web-enabled product, others follow suit in order to compete--even if doing so means possible lost sales. Although most of the companies admit that they have discussed the possibility that some customers might purchase a Web-based system rather than site licenses for the traditional networked product, none seem too concerned. As Banerjea points out, companies that have little use for the functionality of multiple workstations running Gagetrak probably wouldn't purchase it to begin with.

 The only real issue in this regard is the gage calibration labs, says Price. "In the past, if a calibration lab running Gage Insite wanted to share digital data with its customers, those customers also had to have a copy of Gage Insite," he explains. Now, a gage lab can make all of a customer's data available to them through a browser. Again, the situation doesn't really concern Price, who views this as a means of preselling the company's product. Eventually, hope the suppliers, customers will want the extra bells and whistles that come with desktop versions and will go with a software company with which they already have experience.

 Other companies don't see this as an issue at all. IQS licenses its fully Web-capable IQS calibrate the same way as its client-server product: by the number of concurrent users. So, although anybody in the entire company could have access to the data, there's a limit to how many can be online at one time. CyberMetrics, IQS and IndySoft all say that in the future, fully Web-capable software will be the rule rather than the exception, and pricing will probably be based on the number of concurrent users or other schemes that limit usage to what is purchased.

What's out there

 Web-enabled versions of gage management software are fairly new and run the gamut of functionality. On one end are the nonreal-time reporting systems, such as products from Blue Mountain and DataMyte that allow administrators to create HTML reports suitable for e-mailing or posting on a Web site. At the other end are IndySoft's and IQS's fully functional Web products, which allow real-time querying of gage reports, online service requests, and gage data input via a browser. In between are products that allow real-time report generation but no data input. All are provided as extensions of existing software. (For a list of Web-enabled products, see the sidebar.)

 The type of Web-enabled program needed for your company really depends upon the company's needs and whether it's already using a gage management package. Questions to consider include:

  Do interested parties need up-to-the-minute real-time reports of gage status? If not, the ability to periodically generate HTML reports and post them to a Web site is probably enough. Otherwise, consider a package that will accept report requests from Web users and create real-time reports based on the most current data.

  Do users need to change gage descriptions or input gage calibration? If so, a company will need a product that allows data input via a Web browser. An extra point to consider here is security. You want to ensure that the product you are looking at allows only authorized users to input changes.

  Will the software company assist you in setting up your system? The biggest issue for most companies wanting to implement any Web-enabled package is getting it set up. "The large companies don't have any problem with the implementation because they have the knowledge and the manpower," says Price. Most large companies already have an information technology person or department, but small companies usually don't. For those companies, the process of setting up an in-house Web server can be frustrating, particularly if the software manufacturer won't provide any guidance.

The future

 Some have suggested that the recent demise of hundreds of dotcoms marks the Internet's first death throes, but this seems unlikely. If the rather staid and (let's face it) unglamorous fields of gage management, statistics and the like can begin to embrace Web-based tools, then the market for Web tools has reached beyond the glitz and into the nuts and bolts of industry. Before dismissing Web-based gage management as just more Webmania, consider the possible advantages of being able to share gage data regardless of platform or operating system. Check out some demos yourself and ponder how they might fit your situation.

About the author

Dirk Dusharme is Quality Digest's technology editor and InsideQuality's Web editor. If you have any comments about this article, please e-mail them to ddusharme@qualitydigest.com .

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