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RE: MathCad

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Rich wrote:

Engineer Madden comments: " The absolute biggest drawback with MathCAD compared to excel is MathCAD's inability to do lookup functions like excel." If you use tables and matrices you can easily index through them. . . .Knowing VB, C/C++, etc., lets you easily extend the capacity of Excel, MathCAD and AutoCAD, If you don't know one I suggest that you pick a book up and try to learn it. You get it right and it works wonderful, though get it wrong and you can lose your hair while trying to debug it.  Writing custom DLL's let you automate the design phase, for example you can generate Bill of Materials directly from the drawings, Size the beams in excel and it update the AutoCAD drawing and the Bill of Material. (BTW, it helps if you have a son that is majoring in Computer Engineering to help you out, because you generally won't find many others doing this to bounce ideas off or ask for help.)

Exactly Rich – you need a computer engineering degree to learn all the programming necessary to get TEXT STRINGS and USER FRIENDLY LIST BOXES in mathcad. I have been trying to learn VBA for almost a year and a half now and I simply haven’t had the time. Perhaps someone straight of college who actually remembers what they learned in programming class will stick with mathcad. But why should I learn DLL programming, C++, and VBA just so I can keep using mathcad, when all I have to do in excel is type “Vlookup” ? The point is, mathcad is geared toward professors of math rather than structural engineers. Not that excel is geared for us either, but our work is not pure theory of numbers.

On a side note, when I was studying for my PE exam a few years ago I grabbed my old hydraulics text book that was authored by one of the faculty where I went to school. I went to the library to see if there was a more current edition that had the answers to the questions at the end of each chapter so I could verify my practice problems. What I found in the new edition was every sample problem was solved in mathcad. The text even encouraged the students to do their homework/practice on mathcad – I thought this is great for learning mathcad, not so great for learning the material.

Anyway, I think mathcad is great and very powerful, but excel is better suited for what I do. As Tom said, it probably is the way to go if there is a big internal QA/QC process where work is checked in detail. The other alternative is to have spreadsheets tested for accuracy and distributed only after being test driven by the main guy who knows excel and engineering calcs the best. Then only approved spreadsheets may be used in this type of setup.

-gerard