Looking for engineers to discuss preparation of design calculations using EXCEL

I'm a civil/struct. design engineer. For most of my (long) career I was using manual paper/pencil/calculator (or slide rule, if anybody
still remembers it). Lately, for complex structures I use commercial FEM software. Sometimes I use 3-rd party calculation software (such as PCACOL). But whenever I could I prefer to make my own calculations programmed in Excel with sketches made by Excel's Drawing tools. With due respect to the old and trusty paper/pencil approach (fast, straightforward, and many times unavoidable) electronically prepared calc's present obvious advantages. I know many of my fellow engineers use Excel also.
Design calculations as a part of project documentation are not as respected as drawings. Made on paper they are often lost in filings and dusty archives. They are rarely used second time (unless a lawyer needs it, save us God). How many times I was trying to re-use a drawing to find eventually that I have to repeat design calculations! Database of electronic calc's can be searchable and calc's could be easily re-calculated for new conditions. That is just one example Any other ideas?
How do I do it: Firstly, for a company I work (I'm a contractor) I prepare an Excel template of a Design Calculation form sheet which I use for all calc's.
I prefer (or time pressed?) to use simplified and fast approach to Excel spreadsheet programming using only formulas and general tricks (not VBA, although I promise to try). I textually describe all my logics as full as possible and type all formulas as text. This would make life easier for anyone checking or using it again. Otherwise, it is generally follows format of a manual design. At one time I was playing with MathType and Equation Editor but they are only typesetting programs and to make text look nice takes too much time. I'm still searching for a way to type a formula in a usual math format and not to re-type it in the formula bar. Any ideas?
I am using Excel's Drawing Tools (View-Toolbars-Drawing) to illustrate the calculations and make sketches. As far as I know, not many engineers take advantage of these tools. I'm convinced that making sketches with calc's is very important. When I first started making sketches it took quite a time, but with practice it became much faster. Now it takes the same time as making a sketch manually. There are a lot of time saving tricks in Excel Drawing which could be mastered with practice. I think there are needs for some improvements (or adjustments) of Drawing Tools but I will come to do it later. Checking other graphic software (importing AutoCAD, for example) shows that Excel's Drawing is the most practical and easy approach.
As with everything else, the more you use Excel the easier and faster it became.
Any ideas, suggestions, comments, personal observations.?
Simon Goykhman, Toronto snipped-for-privacy@rogers.com
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says...

For simple beam calcs I use a program called Beamchek http://www.beamchek.com /
For a little more complicated stuff I use Strucalc http://www.strucalc.com /
Both will provide sketches as part of the output. Data input is extremely simple for both. Files can be saved and reopened if needs be.
--
Bob Morrison
R.L. Morrison Engineering Co.
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Simon

Thanks for responding and links to the software. Unfortunately, this does not answer my question about EXCEL programming. I use EXCEL because I like to be in control of what is between "input" and "output". And I am not alone - I've just checked "excel group:sci.engr.civil"...
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says...

Simon:
While I appreciate your desire to be in "control", the links to the software I gave you allow you to work efficiently with a minimum of wasted effort. Excel is a fine tool and I would be lying if I said I never use it for engineering work. However, for straight production design the two "beam" programs I gave you links for are very easy to learn, with intuitive data input and with easily understood results. I usually don't ask for more than that from a computer program.
--
Bob Morrison
R.L. Morrison Engineering Co.
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When the Excel drawing tools fall short, pasting Autocad in as a picture works well. Manipulates just like a picture, but makes big files. Prints like a charm.
-Rich
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Mathcad by Mathsoft Inc.
--
Paul Ransom, P. Eng.
Civil/Structural/Project/International
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Check out MathLook for Excel by UTS for using 2D ("math like") notation. Also makes it much easier on the eyes when checking your formulas .
Their other product TK Solver is a powerful rule based multiple equation solver I used in school quite a bit..
http://www.uts.com/software.asp
Fred
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Where possible, I try to avoid excel--i've found (to my dismay) that it's difficult to check for errors, and that once the errors get into the sheet they tend to propagate.
IMHO, this is problem is due to two things-- 1) other than for very simple things, the formulas are difficult to "read"--naming cells can help, but numerical cell references are prone to error 2) it's functionally impossible to read thru multiple formulas at a glance.
In recent years, I've been using MathCad--I find that it's much easier to see the "intent" of the calculations, and as such much easier to check for errors. Also, the printed output carries enough of the information that (if necessary) you can recreate the calculations from the printed output--so the printed documentation for the package is enough to adequately document the calculations.
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I agree with another posting suggesting the use of Mathcad by Mathsoft. It is a little pricey, but you may get lucky and find an older version for sale on ebay.
It it extremely useful for the kind of repeat calculations you describe and you dont need complex formulas and relationships as in Excel. It also readily accepts drawings from Autocad or Imagineer.
You can easily set up your formulas,then copy and paste as needed, changing parameters easily. It is also very good at handling units and preventing related errors.
Good luck
Jose I. Villarreal, P.E. San Antonio, Texas
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Excel certainly is useful, and I certainly use it every day for some stuff. But it isn't perfect. A few years ago I noticed that for some calculation we had in a contaminant transport model, that it was returning incorrect results. Turns out the ERFC function was not correctly implemented. Below is something I wrote internally back in 1999, talking about Excel 97. As we are still using Excel 97 here today, I haven't pursued this in any of the newer versions.
The bottom line, is if you do use these tools (or even paper and slide rule), you are still responsible for the outcome, so you had better be sure that your software is doing what it is supposed to be doing!
-----
For those of you who might be using the ERFC function in Excel 97. It does not provide the correct result when the argument is less than zero.
For example:
ERFC(-1) = 1.842700735 but EXCEL gives ERFC(-1) = -0.157299265
ERFC is defined as ERFC(x)=1-ERF(x), however when x<0, EXCEL appears to use ERFC(x)=-1-ERF(x)
The ERFC function is widely used in solutions to the Advection-Dispersion equation, in particular it is in the Ogata-Banks solution for groundwater contaminant transport. The use of the ERFC function in Excel for these type of solutions, will result in very wrong answers! The ERF function appears to be correct, but should be used with caution.
Microsoft was contacted, who have confirmed that their is a problem. The Excel Help file, actually says that the functions will both return #NUM for negative arguments. Apparently the next version of Excel (Excel 2000-which will be released next month) works as specified (returning #NUM for negative arguments), however this means, that existing spreadsheets using the ERF function, that rely on negative numbers, will no longer function. Microsoft is investigating further.
Nicholas Fitzpatrick, P.E., P.Eng.
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I believe that is exactly his point, do you trust a high price program just because its "high price" ? If your going to stamp and put your name on a design shouldn't you be the one doing the math? How do you trust a program if you don't do the programming? Where's the line between cost-effectiveness and dangerous.
Just wandering;-) rentapen

wrote:

.>usually don't ask for more than that from a computer program.
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Dear Rentapen:

just
I hand full of free advice: - you get what you pay for - if you are paid to develop software, fine. If you are not, they'll find someone to do your regular job. - if you have a software "suite" that does the job, validate that you get results for cases you can test. then lock the suite down. - if it works don't fix it.
Home projects are well and good. It feels great to develop your own algorithms. But don't limit your company to only your efforts. Your competition will not be afraid to use predeveloped tools. Move fast, move quietly, and bury them. Business is not always about "feeling good". It is about being as right as you are allowed time for.
David A. Smith
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You do it the same way as if you were doing the programming yourself..check the results of the code against known results..preferably analytical but if none are available then against published results.
--
-
Peter Attar
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wrote:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ To: Rentapen (mess.11) and Peter Attar (mess.13):     "Check the results of the code against known results.. preferably analytical but if none are available then against published results". (Peter Attar, mess.13)
I don't think it is practical and enforceable in an engineering office. Managers would consider it not a "regular job" for engineers. At most they will pay lip service to it. And this can not substitute for proper checking anyway. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------     "If your going to stamp and put your name on a design shouldn't you be the one doing the math?" (Pentapen, mess 11)
This is not a simple question. Are we going to reject the whole industry of commercial programming?
My suggestions:
1)    Commercial software developers shall be regulated by such professional institutions as AISC, ACI, ASCE and similar. 2)    There shall be established some kind of a Code of Practice for software developers. 3)    The commercial software and programs shall be checked and certified by independent engineers and programmers. 4)    The accompanying Software printed documents shall be stamped, sealed and signed by Professional Engineers the same way as drawings and calculations. 5)    The users of this software shall indicate software they used for the design and so that the developers become co-authors of the design
Simon Goykhman, P.Eng.
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snipped-for-privacy@rogers.com (Simon) wrote in message

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Aug.28,2003 Answers to thread (messages from 4 to 10): Looking for engineers to discuss preparation of design calculations using Excel
Google Groups:sci.engr.mech, sci.engr.civil -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To: Bob Morrison (mess.4)
Bob: Sorry for terse remarks I made previously. My points are: 1)    I am trying to make my calculations as close as possible to manual on paper. It gives me opportunity to think. If I do mistakes - I'm solely responsible (I explain logic and write formulas for easy checking). Are you sure in pre-fab software there are no mistakes? Using somebody's program you delegate your design to himIs it allright? 2)    You mentioned two programs for steel/wood beams ($100 and $400). There are hundreds on the market. What about concrete columns (PCACOL about $500)? Or curved beams, or prestressed RC beams, or foundations, or towers, or bins, vibrations, pilesetc. I am sure you can get software for any imaginable structure. Is it worth it? Sure there are all encompassing (FEM analysis and member design) software, such as STAAD, RISA, ROBOT and many others. I worked with many of them but still, please see 1) 3)    These days engineers do not work all life in one company. Today I work on a mining project, tomorrow on a petrochemical Last two years I was in three companies working for four different projects. I know STAAD from previous experience but never used it in these companies. Lately I worked with RISA and ROBOT. They are good, powerful programs and for complex structures (building frames, bridges, vibrations, moving loads, etc) they are indispensable. Excel programming will never substitute them. 4)    About "efficiency with minimum of wasted effort": for $400 (strucalc.com) plus time to learn it I will do my own EXCEL program which will be more efficient and useful. I spent two month making ROBOT ($5000) work, and think of it as a lost time.
Other points which attracts me to Excel are that it is very flexible, popular (anyone could use a program I did), very portable (I could come to any office and start working), allows for programming any problem, has sketching capabilities and emulates manual design. It has many drawbacks, of course, which I am trying solve (one approach is to know opinions and suggestions of others)
Simon -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To Rich Jones (mess.5):
Rich:
I'm trying to simplify the process and make it fast. And I am talking is not about a CAD drawing but a simple design sketch you are doing when making it with pencil on paper. When a CAD drawing has been done it's probably already late to prepare a sketch for it. Also not everybody has AutoCAD, or ability to work with it. What about portability? Can I send it to my friend if he does not have AutoCAD 2002. I played with importing from AutoCAD to Excel and decided against it.
Simon -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To: Paul Ranson (mess.6)
Paul:
I am talking about Excel. Maybe because I am in love with it We can talk about Mathcad, Mathlab, Mathematica and others next time. My initial question was: how to type a formula (in EXCEL) in a usual math format and not re-type in the formula window. Such Add-ins for EXCEL as MathType, Equation Builder, MathLook and others are typesetting programs and have nothing to do with formulas. TK Solver is great also
Simon ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- To: Fred Ernst (mess.7)
Fred:
My initial question was: how to type a formula (in EXCEL) in a usual math format and not re-type in the formula window. Such Add-ins for EXCEL as MathType, Equation Builder, MathLook and others are typesetting programs and have nothing to do with formulas. TK Solver is great also Simon ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ To: Michael (mess.8)
Michael:
I absolutely agree with your criticism of Excel. I started this discussion to find opinions and suggestions to improve it. I don't know yet how to achieve it. One of the ways is to make formulas readable in cells as math equations (not as a typesetting pictures). One of the typesetting add-ins to Excel (Equation Builder) is very close to it. There are placeholders (similar to text boxes) where you place numbers or letters. Excel's Text Boxes allow for connections to other cells. I don't know maybe it is time to develop another version of Excel targeted to engineers And I know MathCad it is great, I have it, but I have found that not many of my colleagues have it or wishing to buy or learn it It would be not as popular as Excel
Simon -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
To: Jose I. Villarreal (mess.9)
Jose: Please see my response to Michael (message 8)
Regards, Simon ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
To: Nickolas Fitzpatrick (mess.10)
I agree that Excel is not perfect. It was developed for business/financial I see a lot of changes to be done to better serve engineers But nothing is perfect, anyway. Very often, especially if the result is suspicious, I make a fast manual cursory checking Maybe, we will find a way to approach Microsoft to develop engineering (scientific) version of Excel
Thanks for a note on ERFC Simon ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Thank you all

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says...

Both the programs I recommended have results that are easily checkable with hand methods. We are not talking about complex FEM programs here, but simple beam and column programs. I guarantee you that I can outcalc you using these programs --- and in this business speed can equal time which can equal money. I have written some complex spreadsheet routines to calculate lateral forces on residential structures. I spent a lot of and effort time on them and when a new building code came out they were no longer any good and had to be rewritten.

If you do a lot of concrete column design then by all means buy a program that does that type of design. My point here is to spend less time writing programs and more time doing design. You don't seem to want to trust the software writers (I might add that is a healthy skepticism). However, If I was your boss I would be less willing to trust complex spreadsheet programs that have not been fully beta tested by someone who didn't write it.

Sure these are all powerful tools and they have their place in the scheme of things. But how many times during the day are you designing a simple beam versus the number of times you are designing complex structures. If it is the latter then the programs I recommended are no good to you. And I am quite sure that it would be a major programming effort to get Excel or any other spreadsheet to even come close to what the FEM programs will do.
As another poster has said "- if you are paid to develop software, fine. If you are not, they'll find someone to do your regular job." As I alluded to above, if you worked for me your job would be as a design engineer not a software writer. If you insisted on spending enormous amounts of time on writing spreadsheets you would soon no longer be working for my company. So, you have to decide if your job is a software writer or is it a design engineer.
--
Bob Morrison
R.L. Morrison Engineering Co.
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