Software tip: GAGEpack printer issue

David ShattuckShortly after GAGEpack 9.0 was released last fall, we began to get calls from users who were having trouble printing labels after upgrading to the new version. Naturally, our GAGEpack development team grew concerned, and launched an investigation to track down the problem and resolve it. Our findings surprised us.

After talking with users who were experiencing these problems and doing a hefty bit of testing internally, we were eventually able to isolate the trouble to those systems that were using all three of these components: GAGEpack 9.0, Windows XP, and Brother printers. Any user running a different version of GAGEpack, a different version of Windows, or a different type of printer would have no label problems at all.

This was an extremely peculiar conclusion, because we knew that each of those three components will work correctly on its own or combined with just one of the others. If GAGEpack 9.0 works fine with Windows XP and it works fine with a Brother printer, why do we see problems when GAGEpack 9.0 tries to work with both Windows XP and a Brother printer at the same time? It was quite a mystery.  Our tech sleuths were all over it.

As it turns out, the trouble lies with the drivers that Brother has published to enable their printers to communicate with Windows XP. These drivers were last updated in March 2002. In software terms, they are ancient. This was not a problem in GAGEpack 8.5 because every version of GAGEpack released since the early 1990s had been written in Microsoft’s VB6 programming language. However, VB6 has been officially unsupported as a software development language since March 2008. GAGEpack 9.0 is written in the new VB.net, which was extremely young and not commonly used the last time the Brother Windows XP printer drivers were updated.

Windows XP is going to be around until at least April 2014, and we hope that Brother will update its antiquated drivers before then. In the meantime, if you are a GAGEpack 9.0 user struggling with this problem, we offer two solutions. The first option is to upgrade your operating system to a newer version of Windows. Windows Vista and Windows 7 both work great with the label printing. If you decide to go that route, I recommend Windows 7, for reasons far too numerous to discuss here. The second option is to replace your label printer. During our testing on this issue, we purchased a Dymo printer to replace the Brother p-touch that we’ve been using for many years. The new Dymo hasn’t given us any trouble.

Based on these findings, we’re recommending non-Brother printers to our customers who may be in the market for replacement printers.

Software tip: GAGEmail – The secret treat included with GAGEpack

David ShattuckWhen I do a product demonstration of GAGEpack and I arrive at the segment where I talk about GAGEmail, I often find myself introducing it by saying, “I wish more people knew about this.” In fact, it is not uncommon for me to come across veteran GAGEpack users who are unaware that they have a program like GAGEmail at their disposal.

GAGEmail is a tiny program designed to run in the background and continuously scan GAGEpack databases to watch for upcoming gage servicing events. When it finds an event, it will e-mail a reminder to the person responsible for that gage. This proactive approach to calibration reminders makes GAGEmail unique amongGAGEpack‘s notification methods. Normally, users must remember to remind themselves of upcoming events by checking their reports or filtered gage lists. With GAGEmail, the reminder is entirely automated.

In addition to being automated, these reminders are also quite flexible. The user can specify which types of events trigger e-mails, how far in advance of the event they should be sent, who should receive them, and what they should say.

In order to use GAGEmail, customers simply need to install it by contacting a PQ support representative.

As always, I am available to offer assistance with setting up GAGEmail. You can call me at 800-777-5060, e-mail me at support@pqsystems.com, or leave questions for me below.

Software tip: Concurrent-user licensing or not concurrent-user licensing? That is the question!

David ShattuckLast year we deployed a new licensing option for all three of our major software applications. Up until that point, our customers licensed the software on a “per-computer” basis, meaning every computer terminal being used to run the program required its own unique license. As the software industry shifted towards enterprise and network licensing options, we received a steady stream of requests for more flexible “roaming” licenses. Thus, the concurrent-user license was born.

A concurrent-user license allows an organization to install our software on an unlimited number of computers on the same network, giving them the freedom to put these applications into the hands of any/all of their employees without the cost and hassle of managing individual licenses. The only restriction in the concurrent model is the number of people who can access the program simultaneously; when the sixth person attempts to log into a five-user license, they will get a message saying that the server is full.

We still offer the per-computer licenses, but the concurrent-user licenses have been steadily growing in popularity since they were launched.  Consequently, I routinely find myself answering the question “Should I switch to a concurrent-user license?”  My response is always the same:  “It depends.”

The value of a concurrent-user license versus the traditional per-computer license depends heavily on what sort of traffic to the program is anticipated. If you expect infrequent and fairly brief access from many computer terminals, a concurrent-user license would meet your needs for a fraction of what it would cost to license all of those terminals individually. On the other hand, if you have only a few terminals that need near-constant access to the program, it would likely be more cost effective to invest in per-computer licenses. In both scenarios, both licensing options could be applied to grant the required access, but selecting the appropriate license would save a pretty penny.

Please feel free to contact your account representative if you have questions about your specific application or contact me via e-mail at davids@pqsystems.com. We would be happy to discuss different licensing options with you.

Software tip: Adding some style to your charts in CHARTrunner

Scott JohnsonEvery now and then I’m complimented on the way my charts look.  I’m not going to give myself all the credit. I mainly give the credit to the CHARTrunner and its designers.  Each month, I create a chart for our monthly newsletter, Quality eLine. I have found myself utilizing CHARTrunner’s chart style options more and more.  I would like to go through some of the advantages that I have found.

A few benefits of chart styles include:

  1. Helps produce consistent charts each time they are drawn;
  2. Allows you to assign fonts to different areas on the chart;
  3. Has many options for color management;
  4. Provides options for other various styles like line styles and data marker styles;
  5. Properly used, it can make charts easier to read;
  6. And there is no limit to the number of styles (each one is a file ending in .csc).

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Software tip: Automatic emailing in the new GAGEpack 8.5

Scott JohnsonLast month we released GAGEpack 8.5 that includes a new software utility GAGEmail. GAGEmail is a separate application that improves the way automated emails are sent.

  • 24/7 email alerts (emails even with GAGEpack is closed)
  • IT folks can manage this as they do other applications that run as a service
  • GAGEmail can run on a separate PC, so the GAGEpack PC can be shutdown and users still get alerts
  • Automated emails will not affect the performance of GAGEpack

GAGEmail also makes email options from GAGEpack more versatile. Here are a few options that before now, were not possible:

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Software tip: Lloyd Nelson control limit option

Steve DaumCustomers often request that we add very specific statistical features to our software products. Before we decide to implement new features, we consider several questions. Is the feature within our realm of core competency? Is the feature related to the types of analysis we already do? Will the feature appeal to a narrow or wide swath of our customers? Is the feature aligned with our mission of providing the simplest solutions that apply practical statistics to improve our customers’ quality?

If the feature makes it though this gauntlet, we study the specifics of the new feature. What algorithms are required? What formulae will be used? How will the feature be tested? Where will the feature be visible in the user interface? This process takes time. We are continuously improving our turn around on feature requests, but many steps exist between getting the idea from the customer into a working product.

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Software tip: 9 easy steps to creating GAGEpack reports

Scott JohnsonEach week I get calls from GAGEpack users who need to create new reports. It just so happens that we have an easy way to create new reports without having to know a single line of SQL coding. Creating your own report allows you to pick all the columns and design it just the way you like. I’ll outline how to make a report in 9 easy steps.

1. Open the Reports List.
2. Click on the ‘New’ button.

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Software tip: Software pricing based on usage

Steve Daum

For 20+ years we have been selling our software based on a per-workstation license. The idea is that for each computer where the software is installed, the user must purchase one license. This has worked well and we will continue to offer this option into the future.

One of the trends we are watching is software licensing based on how much it is used. There are different usage-based pricing models but most of them tie the price to how many people use the software rather than the number of computers where it is installed. In the past, the technology for managing this type of license added complexity to the installation and deployment experience. With networks, the internet, and new license tools, the usage-based license model is becoming more appealing.

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Software tip: Direct data in SQCpack

Scott JohnsonI recently received a call from Tom who was keying gage data into SQCpack through a keyboard. Tom called because his company was interested in reducing the amount of time that it was taking to get their data into SQCpack. I learned that he was writing down the readings, walking across the plant to the PC, then typing the numbers into SQCpack. There were multiple ways to make their data entry more efficient.

First, I suggested moving the computer to the production area. This was not an option as this PC was in use by the supervisor and could not be moved. My next suggestion was to purchase another PC. This solution was also denied due to the cost. Eventually, the company agreed to move an unused PC from an old production area to the current production area. This move alone saved them a great deal of time.

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Software tip: A more informative x-axis label for your control chart

Steve DaumI spoke with a customer the other day who wanted multiple labels along the x-axis of his control chart. His data set and original chart looked like this:

Did you notice how the x-axis labels contain only the date column? He also wanted the batch number as part of the x-axis label. In the chart definition form, you can select only a single identifier as the label as shown below:

The solution lies on the data definition tab.

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