Mathcad 14.0 (First Look Review)31 May, 2007 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
Combine text, live math, graphics and annotations in one worksheet.
In a parametric modeling system, you must plug in numbers to control your sketches. That in turn allows you to control and change your model. But where do you get your numbers? Many times, you can measure parts with which your new model will mate. Other times, you've got to come up with numbers to describe the length, width, height or whatever is important to the function of the part you're designing. If those numbers aren't given to you, you'll need to figure them yourself—and that means calculations. You know, math.
PTC, the maker of Pro/ENGINEER, has a product that will help make your math duties easier. It's called Mathcad 14.0, and it's all about calculation and documentation. PTC bought Mathcad in 2006. It's a stand-alone engineering calculation program that is available in nine languages.
Math programs can appear intimidating at first glance (and sometimes second and third glance, too), but Mathcad 14.0 tries to minimize that. Users work with worksheets in a whiteboard design environment that looks a bit like Microsoft Word. Mathcad 14.0 was designed for engineers and has more than 400 math functions for statistics, differentials, calculus and other functions. If you're accustomed to using spreadsheets for your calculations, you know how cryptic they can get when documenting equations. Mathcad 14.0 is different. Each operation is detailed in plain view so you can track everything. If a mistake occurs, it's easier to find it, especially because Mathcad 14.0 will flag errors and actually explain what's wrong.
Mathcad 14.0's whiteboard user interface makes creating and documenting your calculations very straightforward.
Show Your Work
Traditional CAD geometry captures what a design is supposed to look like. Mathcad 14.0 shows why it should look like it does. Mathcad 14.0 captures engineering intent in a way that traditional CAD programs can't. You can combine text, live math, graphics and annotations in one worksheet with unprecedented detail. You can import and use Excel data directly. Direct links to outside files reduce typographical errors. (Of course, if it's wrong in the original file, not even Mathcad 14.0 can help you.) Mathcad 14.0 can tie Pro/E variables to Mathcad. (Sandy Joung, director of product marketing for PTC, said, "Right now, the only productized and supported CAD integration is with Pro/ENGINEER. Other CAD systems could tie their parameters as well, especially if they support standard interfaces.")
Mathcad 14.0 lets you set variables in your equations and reuse them wherever you want. You can copy and paste images into and out of Mathcad 14.0 to enliven your calculation output (or to put a picture to a difficult concept). You can compare worksheets to see what changes have been made. You can convert worksheets to Microsoft Word to share with others. Mathcad 14.0 has on-the-fly unit conversion, so if you are entering data in English measurements and the worksheet is already set for metric units, Mathcad 14.0 will make the conversion for you. (Wow, NASA could use something like that.) Mathcad 14.0 will even track what you're doing and use derived units to keep your work straight. That means if you are entering data in kilograms and meters per second, it will know that the answer should be given in newtons.
At $1,200, the node-locked Mathcad 14.0 is not as cheap as your old TI-84—but you get a lot more for your money. If you subscribe to a maintenance plan, you get a discount of 20% and 24/7 technical support. You also get vertical libraries for mechanical, electrical and civil engineering information. And last but not least, the developer also sells extension packs for data analysis, signal processing, image processing and wavelets.
Add It Up
Mathcad 14.0 is a great way for those rocket scientists and engineers out there—you know who you are—to do what you do.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.