Do The Math
From CAD User Mechanical Magazine Vol 17 No 10 - OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2004
Mathsoft expands the availability of its Mathcad software by integrating XML capabilities.
According to Gisella Wilson, CAD analysts at IDC, the latest
developments in Mathsoft’s MathCad calculation software will, essentially, open
up the whole mathematical calculation market, not only for designers and
engineers, but also for authors, editors and other individuals who need to
populate their deliberations with explicit mathematical calculations.
Like me, you are probably thinking that the arcane world of engineering and
scientific mathematics is a pretty closed book, and after substantial unlocking,
opening up, enlightenment and so on, would probably still remain pretty obscure.
Engineers are notoriously shy of extending their mathematical expertise, relying
on the same, few, faithful solutions they picked up at university and which have
served them well ever since. (Yes, of course, I am winding you up, here – that’s
Mathcad has existed for a number of years to provide a digital method of
displaying and carrying out engineering calculations. What you get on the screen
is the formula in exactly the same way that it would be written on a blackboard,
and mathematical calculations perform exactly as the formula ordains. That’s
fine, as far as it goes, and it went a very long way, establishing Mathsoft as
one of the principal suppliers of such software, with an extensive catalogue of
formulae – accompanied, I might add, by a weighty tome that describes every
formula available, and which I use for reaching books off the top shelf of the
What was lacking, until now, was an effective way of capitalising on the vast
amount of individual calculations performed by other design engineers – and also
of analysing the formative backgrounds to calculations – ‘has anybody ever done
this calculation before?” – “Where did that number come from?” - and “who has
solved this problem before me?”.
The solution not only solves these problems, but brings with it improvements in
publishing, archiving and other areas. MathCad 12, the latest version of the
software, is capable of producing engineering information in XML format. This
means that all of your calculations are now machine readable – i.e., can be
read, understood, converted, stored, printed and any other conceivable thing you
would want to do with electronic data!
Which leads us to the next step. MathCad 12 comes within a new solution for
engineering enterprises, Mathsoft’s Calculation Management Suite, which, now
that the XML format is available, is geared towards leveraging the software’s
new capabilities. And, to cap it off, the data that is being managed can be
viewed, searched, reported upon and published using another Calc Mgt Suite
module, Designate – a web based reporting tool.
In future, engineers will be able to publish their calculations as executable
code – i.e., outside of Mathcad in, for example, Web or PDF format, or they can
be converted into WordML without changing the source – ideal for engineers out
in the field wielding nothing more than a simple hand held PDA! XML data can be
saved and viewed in worksheets, rather than having to re-open Mathcad.
Besides its new open data capability, Mathcad comes with many of its existing
features much enhanced, including greater flexibility to document engineering
critical values, expanded units and dimensions handling and new 2D plotting
For instance, users can now define default units, perhaps selecting inches
instead of feet as the US default length unit, eliminating the need to include
extra conversions in their calculations. Another 18 built-in units have been
added to the hundreds of engineering and scientific units that Mathcad already
tracks. And, for plotting, a new secondary ‘y’ axis is available allowing two
different scales to beuplotted on the same axes. Colurs can also be changed on
markers, and there is an improved interface to change colour on grids. Plotting
has also been enhanced by allowing users to position legends, change font faces,
size and colours for titles and labels – and there is enhanced flexibility in
zooming and tracing.
Calculation Management Suite
I suppose Mathsoft’s Calculation Management Suite can be compared to an
integrated PLM solution for mechanical design, as it provides a web or server
based database for storing and managing an engineers mathematical deliberations.
It can be used as a collaboration tool, as well, as all design engineers
involved in a project will have access to the same data. The result is higher
productivity, higher product quality, and better compliance with regulations –
as engineers with easy access to tried and tested formulae will hardly resort to
the unnecessary mental exertion of re-inventing the wheel!
The Suite - which is customisable, enabling it to be set up to suit a particular
enterprises working practices - comes with two main packages, Mathcad 12, the
engineering calculation tool, and Designate, the web based viewing and
publishing environment. It also comes with a number of smaller modules and tools
– one of the most interesting of which enables companies to set up specific
worksheets that can be used to spread the companies ‘good calculation practice’
throughout the enterprise – even to non-Mathcad users. This is Mathcad
Application Server, an optional item, used to create and distribute Mathcad
Enterprise interactive worksheets on the Internet and intranets, accessed using
standard web browsers, rather than having Mathcad installed on each system. It
may look similar, it shouldn’t be confused with Designate, which is used for
peer to peer communication between Mathcad users.
Other modules include a number of publishing and customisation tools. Displaying
and publishing XML data is handled by the Publishing Toolkit, and Binder Toolkit
is a piece of software that can be used for creating electronic books from data
assembled using the Calculation Management Suite – perhaps to be used as
standards reference tools by company employees. The Customisation Toolkit is a
set of APIs accompanied by a software development kit.
All of these are options that can be purchased for use with the Calculation
Management Suite. A couple of libraries are also available as optional extras,
focussing on specific application areas. These include sets of calculations to
cover Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Queuing
Theory and Finite Element Analysis. Vertical Extension Packs also exist for Data
Analysis, Signal Processing, Image Processing, Wavelets and Advanced Solving.
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