Calculation Management Done Right

For many projects, technical calculations may not be managed with the same attention as other intellectual property. What’s often missing is calculation management, a process that treats calculations like the vital, valuable company assets they are.

By Laurent Bernardin

It’s time to treat your calculations as an essential company asset, and manage them with the attention they deserve.

For successful technical projects, growing competition has required faster design cycles and iterations in almost every sector. Companies take great steps to invest in the products they deliver, which are comprised of various designs, techniques and intellectual property, carefully managed to preserve these assets and make new products easier to deliver.

For many projects, technical calculations may not be managed with the same attention as other intellectual property. What’s often missing is calculation management, a process that treats calculations like the vital, valuable company assets they are.

Consider the workflow of many engineers or technical professionals. During beginning stages, there’s a lot of scratchpad work as the concept moves closer to reality. Typically, these calculations are spread out over notepads, spreadsheets and simply in the engineer’s head. As the design moves forward, these calculations become bundled into all future decisions, which can compound any deficiencies in how the calculations were managed until that point. What happens if an engineer moves on or is on vacation? Without the original author, engineers can be left without a transparent set of calculations and wondering where “that” number came from.

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; and
  • allow deployment of calculations and tools across an organization.
It is common for engineering calculations to end up in spreadsheet tools. Although these tools are useful for a variety of applications, they weren’t designed to manage technical calculations for the long term.

Engineering calculations are 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 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.

Automate Common Tasks

Recently, a renowned automotive parts company decided to deploy calculation management software across the organization. They used a single tool to connect teams who worked on different aspects of any given project. Engineers used the software to explore their design space, and their proposals could be audited because their calculations were fully documented and transparent.

Using natural math notation, engineers performed calculations just as intuitively as by hand, while using plots, diagrams and text to create mathematical documents that are report-ready. Application authors created highly specialized tools that had easy-to-use interfaces, allowing other technical employees to move forward without requiring the expertise to create the calculations. Employing a tool that automatically takes care of common tasks frees up their engineers’ time to develop specific solutions, explore new design ideas and collaborate with others. Quickly, the company noticed an increased ability to perform advanced analysis, and a stronger preservation of all the corporate knowledge their projects contain.

Be Proactive with Calculation Management

Many engineers have their own personal preferences for where to do their calculation work, and adopting new tools can be hard to justify. Spreadsheet-based tools have become ubiquitous for their wide variety of capabilities, and many companies only explore new tools as a reaction to the problems they’ve encountered. By that time, they’re already experiencing losses from the underperforming tool, and pressures to find a replacement run high.

The current pace of modern engineering requires a proactive approach to managing calculations properly in a way that cuts out the redundancies and downtimes associated with past techniques that use generalized tools. Companies are also adopting the services of the software vendors, ensuring that the new tool comes complete with training and toolchain implementation.

Laurent Bernardin is chief scientist at Maplesoft.

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