CALIBRATION MADE EASIER, MAY 2004 The papers can cram a filing cabinet, bulge a storage box, or fill up a hard drive, and still they keep coming. The records are those slips of papers or kilobyte-eating calibration files that grow by leaps and bounds as each gage goes through its calibration cycle. "A company can have 10,000 gages on a yearly cycle and that equates to 10,000 certificates," says Chuck Shaw, general manager of Starrett Calibration Services (Duncan, SC). "Considering they usually have to keep their paperwork for seven to 10 years, well, you do the math." Calibration service providers are looking to help ease this paperwork burden and often are turning to the Internet as a simple, cost savings and paperless solution. Richard J. Bagan Inc. is an ISO 9001 and A2LA calibration lab that launched its Web efforts in the form of a product called Web Track. While other organizations have used the Internet for standard related activities, especially the ISO series, Richard J. Bagan Inc. was one of the first to use it for calibration activities. In the 1990s, the company was audited by a customer, a steel company, which was undergoing a cost-savings program. "I didn't know what they were looking for," says Dick Bagan, president and CEO. "I went to a purchasing manager's convention and heard Bethlehem Steel talk about how they developed a cost-savings program that saved them money from reducing search time, among other savings. One plant saved more than $10 million." One of the cost-savings ideas led to the company opening up their computer systems to its customers. "It changed our thinking forever," Bagan says. "We realized that we had to allow customers to come into our computer." Driving their thinking, Bagan says, was a need to be a leveraged resource for their customers to help them achieve cost savings. "In today's world market, manufacturers have to reduce costs to stay in the game, and we try to fill that need," he says. The company built a software package, now dubbed Web Track, which is a task management system. Computers can check backlogs, manage task lists and set priorities. It is all Web based and users with a browser and a pin number can see all of its calibration activities, even among multiple plants, to know what is being calibrated and what needs to be calibrated, as well as to store gage histories and certificates. Most mid- to high-end gage management software will provide continuous adherence to common industry standards as well as scalability, and reliable product support and services. High-end systems provide a much more robust feature set of functionality, ease of use and report capabilities."From the high-end you get more bells and whistles, which may or may not be used and sometimes makes the software too 'busy,'" says Bill Browning, president of Software Technology (Cookeville, TN). "The cost is significantly higher because of overhead and advertising expense. From the low-end you get software that meets the requirements of gage calibration/gage studies, less the additional bells and whistles but at a cost that is significantly less." Many low-end packages are simply an inventory system with a log of calibration events and often little data integrity checking. However, there are some low-end packages out there that assist in compliance with current industry standards. But as Devin Brent Ellis, client solutions director at Cyber Metrics Corp. (Scottsdale, AZ), points out, "They usually don't have the resources to keep up with new technologies or changing standards so they are not a good pick for companies looking at the long haul or who are considering a large deployment of a common solution." Many low-end programs depend on other systems, such as Excel, to run their program. "There is nothing wrong with using systems like Excel, but you inherit that system's limitation," says Robert Fruit, certified quality engineer and Six Sigma black belt at Mitutoyo America Corp. (Aurora, IL). "For instance, Excel has many ways for users to interact with the gage values directly which can invalidate the accuracy of the records. There also can be backup issues when a low-end system creates multiple files for record storage. A high-end system typically uses a database backbone to save its records, which increases security because you must use the gage management program every time you want to work with the records. Backups may be a single file." To increase the number of options available, it is not uncommon to find two separate gage management software systems side by side in the same organization. "One takes measurements from a dimensional calibrator and controls dimensional gages," says Richard Tatlow, managing director of Retriever Technology Ltd. (Tenbury Wells, UK). "The other is linked to electrical instrument calibrators and controls electrical instrumentation. "Therefore, look for the company who asks a lot of questions about how you do business; they do this because they are interested in a good fit and a long-term relationship." CALIBRATION SOFTWARE GROWS UP, APRIL 2010 Just few years ago the typical computer user was tied to a desk and connected to data by cords and cables. During the last few years, wireless technology-including 3G cellular data networks and widespread Wi-Fi-has allowed for anytime, anywhere mobile software applications. One major drawback has been the necessity to download data as needed, manage offline modes such as lost cell signal or Wi-Fi connection, and then ensure that all the data is synchronized with the host system. Some calibration management systems now offer handheld PC, PDA and smart phone software modules that allow for truly portable and mobile calibration data collection and analysis. Lightweight technologies such as gadgets and widgets have become popular on Web sites such as Google and Yahoo. Enterprises can use them to build quick tactical solutions and then slowly migrate to more strategic options. Windows Vista and 7 include a desktop gadget framework for individuals to check stocks, weather and news. Expect to see more and more application developers offer auxiliary gadgets for their applications that provide at-aglance status on things such as calibration activities, service requests, work orders, staffing and inventory. Many software firms are recognizing the importance of localizing applications and content across cultural and geographic boundaries. Although the technology has been around for a while to allow for this, the globalization of many enterprises is driving software localization forward. Companies are recognizing that both employees and partners operate more effectively in their native language rather than using English as a second language. For others it is the potential to sell outside of saturated English language markets. Many software firms will lose market share in their assumption that application interfaces, user manuals and technical support need only support English. As more applications move to the cloud, software and content will continue to expand to the farthest reaches of the globe, and it is important to remember that only 18% of the world's population use English as their primary or secondary language. Both Microsoft and Adobe will soon incorporate the "software plus services" concept as a bridge to Saa. It is expected that these software giants will offer pure online-based software applications and will evolve, getting more and more of the features that are typically found on desktop application software. Calibration management software has continued to evolve and change with the software industry in general. While individuals will not need to discard their desktop software anytime soon, it is good to be aware of choices that are available now and what the future holds. QUALITY ONLINE Visit www.qualitymag.com to listen to the following Q-Cast podcasts on calibration: o Accrediting Your Calibration Lab o Calibration Management Software: Important Factors Manufacturers Need to Know o Critical Calibration: Taking Care of Your CMM
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