Engineers rely on mathematical calculations as the foundation for a significant number of routine activities that might include:
- the determination of critical design parameters that may be used as inputs to engineering software tools such as computer aided design (CAD) packages
- the correlation of engineering theory with the results of experiment, physical testing or numerical modelling
- the validation or justification for a chosen workflow or design strategy prior to its formal adoption
- the checking and review of existing or outsourced engineering data or calculations
Engineering calculations often also represent critical and core intellectual property, central to an organsation’s competitiveness and commercial success.
Challenges, Solutions and Benefits
- Intellectual Property
Can you be sure that your valuable IP is both secure and easily retrievable in the longer term ?
Your organisation’s intellectual property, and in particular that which is associated with engineering effort, exists in a variety of forms including:
- Knowledge developed and retained by individuals but largely undocumented
- Hand written or typed notes
- 2D drawings and blueprints
- 3D parametric computer generated solid and surface models
All of these information sources are very often disconnected and unmanaged, meaning that:
- the undocumented knowledge leaves the organisation with the departure of key personnel
- the content is often lost in the enterprise filing system making it impossible to retrieve for audit or re-use
- the derivation of critical design parameters and assumptions used in the generation of core design content is de-coupled from the final output
The appropriate software tool for the job !
An organisation’s IP is very important and ensuring its long term retention requires the use of dedicated tools for the creation, management, secure storage and rapid retrieval of all acquired knowledge.
The type of information that engineers seek to document, retain and share may contain any or all of the following data types:
- plain text
- symbolic text
- tabular data
- math equations and formulae
- advanced mathematical functions
- 2D and 3D graphs
- links to external data sources
Typically, combinations of tools including calculators, notebooks, word processors and equation editor plug-ins are employed to develop and store content but ideally engineers need a single software tool that can address all of these data types.
- Using Spreadsheets?
What’s wrong with using a mainstream “spreadsheet” application to document engineering calculations ?
Many engineers choose to use a spreadsheet for documenting and storing engineering calculations because this tool is often readily available to them on their computer desktop as part of their standard office software suite.
Ideally suited to financial calculations, spreadsheets are deficient in many key areas in regard to the specific needs of engineers. For example:
- spreadsheets do not offer unit support. Engineering calculations involving units are very common and often engineers have to deal with disparate and mixed unit systems. There is no practical way to overcome this deficiency in a standard spreadsheet application.
- spreadsheets do not clearly display the equation(s) used to derive a calculated result. This makes it very difficult to check or debug a calculation and is a broadly acknowledged source of error arising from engineering calculations performed this way.
- spreadsheets do not offer support for advanced mathematical functions. Engineers often solve differential equations and regularly need to decompose systems of linear and non-linear equations using matrix and vector arithmetic and iterative solvers. Spreadsheet applications do not support this advanced level of mathematical calculation.
- Real Benefits
What other considerations might relate to the selection of an appropriate engineering calculation and documentation software tool ?
If we accept that the ability to document data quickly and in a form that’s easy to read is important, then we must also consider the importance of storing that data in a manner that permits rapid access at a future date. Compliance and audit requirements often mandate this.
Many larger engineering organisations recognise the need for secure storage of many different document and other data types in a managed and structured database. Some considerations in regard to documents that are to be managed in such a manner include:
- support for standard file, web and publishing formats such as HTML
- support for native data exchange formats such as XML
- support for UNICODE permitting consistent encoding and representation of text amongst different script systems
- the ability to automatically extract and store key metadata to facilitate rapid query based data retrieval
Remember that efficient data retrieval also encourages data re-use. Much of the effort associated with performing and documenting calculations is repetitive. It makes sense to provide authors with a tool that allows them to create standard content that can be easily retained and re-used as template for similar future content. If there is a better way to document, store and publish engineering calculations, what is it? Mathcad is a software application that allows authors of technical calculations to create, publish and manage content very efficiently. Think of Mathcad as a engineering “spreadsheet” application that employs embedded symbolic and numerical solvers to manage and document complex mathematical calculations. All content is displayed in a familiar “whiteboard” environment that is easy to read, edit, publish and share. If you perform engineering calculations with any frequency, Mathcad provides you will a tool that will enhance your personal and process productivity. You will be able to capture, preserve and re-use your critical intellectual property, foster company best practice and compliance to engineering standards.
- Associated Products