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Figure 1: The QI macros option in Excel
A few of the many advantages in attending meetings is the opportunity to see new products, talk with vendors, and obtain samples. In this case, samples are usually software, and it is always nice to find either a breakthrough product that, for the first time, extends our capabilities for data analysis into new territory (rather rare), or a really nice niche product that automates and simplifies something that we have been doing for some time (far more common).
Although my areas of interest concentrate in basic research, an occasion may arise due to convenience (the meeting is in town, readily accessible or free) that beckons to attend something farther afield. In this case, Quality Expo 2007, which took place September 24-27 in Rosemont, IL, provided an opportunity to meet with old friends and update knowledge on products not reviewed for several years. While wandering the aisles between seminars and meetings, a new product presented itself (as the developer thrust a packet into my face while passing his booth) and demanded further attention.
QI Macros is software for the Six Sigma and statistical process control (SPC) flavors of quality assurance. It is specifically designed for practical use by non-statisticians so that line production and support personnel can quickly and easily master the techniques.
Upon briefly glancing thru the literature on display and speaking with the developer, it was apparent that, although nothing terribly new was afoot, the method of implementation was such that the product had sufficient niche advantages as to warrant a review. These advantages were automation of often performed tasks, ease-of-use and price.
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Figure 2: XbarS analysis five pack
From the title, the software is obviously made for Windows. It installs from disk into Excel and puts a ‘QI Macros 2007’ menu choice on the main toolbar. This allows immediate access to the many SPC and Six Sigma routines that are part of the program (Figure 1). Table 1 summarizes many of the capabilities. Note that, although this software is not a general statistical program, many tests are available under the ANOVA selection as are many chart types under the Control Chart selection.
Charting and descriptive statistics are easily produced by two methods. The technician can enter the data on a standard Excel spreadsheet, select those portions to be analyzed, and then select the desired chart procedures. As it is sometimes difficult to pull in the proper information this way if columns and/or rows have multiple headers, the easier way is to request a template and to fill that in with the appropriate data. Ample types of these templates are readily available to produce all of the common charts and plots.
It was nice to see the analysis five-packs, displaying five related analyses on a single screen. These appear as charts and tables describing movements of the mean and variation and quantifying the process capability (Figure 2). It did not appear that these charts were dynamically updated as new data were entered, and this could be a drawback. On the plus side, sample size calculations are included on the menu and easily implemented. These are too often ignored in the planning stages of many experimental designs.
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Table 1: Select Capabilities of QI Macros for EXCEL
The software is supplemented by training CDs and DVDs, a technical support line and Web page, as well as several texts by the developer (Jay Arthur), articles, and a FAQs site. These provide moral support and guiding principles, but I would have preferred specific examples from a variety of industries rather than the many generalities. It would always be nice to see warnings about not over-selling Six Sigma so as not to disappoint management and be viewed by the rank-and-file as the management tool du jour.
Although most, if not all, of these routines may be implemented by the analyst in Excel alone, unless one is very proficient in Visual Basic, this product is convenient and a real time saver under a variety of production conditions. As this software is so very simple to use and rather inexpensive as technical software goes, many of those who perform quality assurance routines on a daily basis would find it to be a big help. A trip to the Web site, at the very least, is highly recommended.
• $139 (quantity discounts available)LifeStar
2244 S. Olive St., Denver, CO 80224-2518
1-303-756-9144; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.qimacros.com
John Wass is a statistician based in Chicago, IL. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.