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Why Calculation Management is Important for Engineers

By Altair Partner Alliance | Maplesoft |

This guest contribution on the Altair Blog is written by Dr. Laurent Bernardin, COO and Chief Scientist at Maplesoft, a member of the Altair Partner Alliance.
Consider the workflow of many engineers, or technical professionals. During the initial stages of a design project, there’s a lot of scratchpad work. Without enough care and attention, many of these calculations find themselves spread out over notepads, whiteboards, spreadsheets, or simply in the engineer’s head. As the design moves forward, these calculations become the basis of decisions. Not only can calculation mistakes propagate throughout an entire project, but there is also a risk of losing assumptions, insights, and derivation details needed for future work. What happens if an engineer leaves for vacation, or moves onto another position? Without the original author, engineers can be left scratching their head and wondering where “that” number came from.

Companies take great steps to invest in their most important assets – namely, the products they deliver. These products are comprised of various designs, techniques, and intellectual property, all of which are managed across an organization with careful thought and attention. By treating the knowledge gained through the design process as a corporate asset that needs to be carefully managed, and by developing an awareness of how that asset is used throughout the organization, companies can preserve knowledge, manage innovation, and accelerate solution development.
One area that is often overlooked is calculation management, a process that treats calculations like the vital, valuable asset they are. Calculation management is a strategy that systematizes the way an organization manages its mathematics and knowledge, from start to finish. With best practices and proper software, calculation management promises to:
  • Treat calculations as a valuable, structured asset,
  • Enable the tracking, validation, and reuse of calculations,
  • Prevent redundant calculation work, even across groups,
  • Allow deployment of calculations and tools across an organization.
Using a calculation management tool like Maple allows for easy, intuitive derivation work without many of the human errors found in scratchpad calculations.

Math software and spreadsheets are often used to support the calculations at the core of their analyses. However, calculations aren’t just a collection of isolated mathematical operations. It’s important to understand that the nature of engineering calculations often requires more than a spreadsheet tool. While such tools are useful for simple computations, they don’t provide the abilities to make calculations a robust, long-standing asset in a company.
Engineering calculations are both a function of complex mathematics and physics-based computations, complete with specialized functions and a wide spectrum of units. For these calculations to be reliable in large designs, they’ll typically undergo a validation process, so they must be in a tool that allows the full range of derivations to be transparent, well-documented, and easily updated. The calculations themselves are often a description of real, complicated physics, so they are best performed using tools that are optimized for efficient calculations – even better if these tools can support the power of cloud computing.
The full range of documentation features in Maple mean that calculation work can be easily audited and understood across an organization.

Adopting a calculation management tool like Maple is an essential step when making calculations a structured, validated set of assets across a company. Maple functions as a documentation system, ensuring that calculations are understood and accessible across an organization. Using natural math notation, engineers can perform their calculations just as intuitively as by hand, while using plots, diagrams, and text to create mathematical documents that are report-ready. Employing a tool that automatically takes care of common tasks frees up an engineer’s time to develop specific solutions, explore new design ideas, and collaborate with others.
Calculations shape the engineered world around us. In the marketplace of technical products and processes, growing competition has required faster development and higher efficiencies in almost every sector. Maple provides a unique calculation environment that captures design intent, provides high-level math tools, and also offers cost-effective deployment targets. Fundamentally, Maple helps engineers to manage their calculations. This transforms what would otherwise be an isolated analysis into a structured asset that can be reused, extended and shared. It's time to treat your calculations as an essential company asset, and manage them with the attention they deserve.