The analysis of data

Paul Boughton

Asian Engineer talks data, statistics and analysis with Minitab’s Michelle Paret.

The noted American engineer, statistician and professor William Edwards Deming (1900-1993) once wrote: “In God we trust, all others must bring data.” Now the collection of data and its analysis is essential for all engineering companies to improve their processes and operations. 

Since it was created in 1972, Minitab has become the leading statistical software for quality improvement. It is used in every industry that uses data analysis and statistics to make their products and processes better.

It was originally developed at the Pennsylvania State University by researchers Barbara F Ryan, Thomas Ryan, Jr, and Brian L Joiner. Now, as Michelle Paret, Product Marketing Manager for Minitab, says: “It’s actually hard to think of an industry where Minitab hasn’t been used!” 

Asian Engineer: What types of industries are using Minitab?

Michelle Paret: Naturally, this includes companies that are involved in manufacturing, transporting, distributing, and servicing products that include everything from toothpaste to tractor-trailers. Companies in ‘heavy’ industries such as mining, steel production, construction, energy, and forestry have all used Minitab to solve problems and boost quality. But we’re also found in the service sector, including government agencies, retail businesses, financial firms, and even non-profit organisations.

But the first place most people encounter Minitab is in education – more than 4,000 colleges and universities use Minitab Statistical Software to teach statistics. Minitab was created by three professors. They wanted to create easy-to-use software to perform statistical calculations so their students could focus on learning the concepts and how to use statistics to answer questions and solve problems.

AE: Why do companies choose Minitab?

MP: First and foremost, Minitab is very easy to use. You can simply type or import your data into Minitab, and immediately begin to create graphs and analyse data with the click of a button. Statistics are difficult enough for many people – why would you want to make it more difficult with software that has a steep learning curve

To further facilitate ease of use, Minitab users like to use the Assistant menu, which helps you choose the right analysis, interprets your results, and makes it easy to present your findings with comprehensive reports.

AE: What’s the profile of a typical Minitab user?

MP: The one thing that most Minitab users have in common is that they are not formally trained as statisticians. They work in manufacturing, or healthcare, or government, and for most of them data analysis is just one of their responsibilities – and not necessarily their main job. Certainly, there are many Minitab users who are statisticians, especially those who work closely with non-statisticians who use Minitab.

AE: What kinds of problems are engineers trying to solve with Minitab?

MP: Mining engineers have used Minitab to figure out the most efficient way to retrieve ore from gold mines. City engineers have used Minitab analysis to determine chemical levels needed for treating wastewater to reduce costs. Manufacturing engineers have used Minitab’s capabilities to optimise their processes and create safer and stronger products. Engineers responsible for sourcing materials have used Minitab to assess quality differences between two potential suppliers.

AE: What are some examples of specific results that Minitab customers achieve?

MP: For example, when Ford Motor Company needed to eliminate a carpet defect for a launch of their Ford Fiesta, their quality improvement experts turned to Minitab. Using Minitab’s Design of Experiments tools, they developed a strategy to assess the effects of machine settings on the quality of the automobile carpets. Their Minitab analysis helped them to identify significant variables and optimal settings for those variables. By combining their engineering expertise with their Minitab analysis, they successfully eliminated the defect.

In another instance, packaging engineer Daniel Calvo Camacho of Boston Scientific, a company that manufactures medical devices, led an effort to validate a new packaging process for a product using during various medical procedures. Engineers used Minitab to conduct their DOE analysis to identify the optimum settings for the packaging seal strength.

AE: What return on investment are users looking for?

MP: Data-driven decision-making saves money. The specific return on investment depends on the size of the project, the size of the company, in addition to many other factors. Depending on the size and scope of the project, teams have saved thousands of dollars by improving processes with Minitab, all the way up to saving millions of dollars through a single project.

AE: Are there specific tools in Minitab that engineers are using and are finding valuable in their day-to-day work?

MP: Minitab includes a comprehensive toolkit for engineers. The software provides everything from basic statistical tools and graphs, such as Pareto charts, to more sophisticated analyses such as Design of Experiments and Reliability. The most commonly-used tools for engineers include hypothesis tests, regression, ANOVA, measurement systems analysis, control charts, and process capability.