Perform Engineering Calculations in the Palm of Your Hand

Geek Culture

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Are you an engineer who wishes they had access to some work-related calculations out in the field? A series of handy new apps may offer what you need. The Formulator Series by MultiEducator, Inc. is a series of iPhone/iPod Touch apps designed and packaged for a variety of engineering and other professionals. Depending on the application you choose, there are many formulas, calculations, regulatory codes and industrial code requirements included.

I volunteered to review a free copy of the Civil Engineer app, since my husband has been a registered professional civil engineer for 8 1/2 years. I knew he could give me some great expert input. I looked around the app first, and noticed many things I learned in high school math classes, but most of the rest was industry specific calculations with which I had no experience.

The main calculation categories for the Civil Engineer app are area formulas, beam, bridge, column, conversion, elevator, piles, piping, plates, roads, shear, soil, structural steel and wood. These are listed in the Contents, accessible at the bottom of the screen. Then each of those categories is broken down further, listing many different subcategories. Other options at the bottom of the screen include Recents (for recent calculations), Favorites (which you can set), Saved (where you can access specific number calculations you have saved in the past) and Search (very useful, since there are so many calculations included in the program). In Search, when you start typing in your search term, it immediately starts listing possible calculations to use.

Once you find the calculation you need, input the numbers for the asked-for variables, and it gives you the result with units. Once you have a result, you can see the definition of the formula, add it to favorites, save the calculation or email the entire result.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Both my husband and I found some mistakes in the program. Perusing the area formulas, I noticed that some of the shapes were listed in the singular, and some in the plural. In another area, they talk about Hazen-Williams friction head loss, but they list it as Hazen William friction head loss. They definitely need a proofreader who is an actual engineer to go back through their program. There are so many special terms specific to the industry that a specialist is needed for this task.

The program doesn’t always use standard industry terminology, spelling things out like “cubic feet per second” instead of just saying CFS. This takes up a lot more room on an already very crowded screen. The program also sometimes uses terms like “cubic feet a second” which isn’t the way most people say it. Also, the program says “circular curve” instead of “horizontal curve” and “parabolic curve” instead of “vertical curve.” Some of the options could be a lot more clear. It talks about the area of a pyramid or area of a sphere when they really mean surface area.

There are some sections with plenty of useful formulas, such as the beam section, and some with very few, such as for roads, bridges, soils, drainage and simple things like grade and distance. For horizontal curves and vertical curves, for example, it has about 1/3 of what it needs. My husband said that it looks like it is designed for structural engineers, based on what is included. The app doesn’t have a unit conversion from square feet to acres, which is the single most common conversion that my husband uses. So you’d have to do multiple calculations to make it all work, since there is no apparent way to send the result of one calculation to an input field of another. Also, there are missing conversions: they have a conversion for gallons to cubic feet, but not cubic feet to gallons.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

Image: MultiEducator, Inc.

The Civil Engineering app is by no means comprehensive, but it is a handy app that could save some time out in the field. You would have more than a calculator at hand, so you’d be able to do much more complicated calculations. To improve the program, my husband’s suggestion is to get the formulas in the book that is given out at the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam (formerly the EIT), and that would be a good start for the formula list.

I asked him if it was a program he would use. His answer, “Probably, but not frequently. Most of the equations I use regularly I know off the top of my head.” He thought it would be helpful for a brand new engineer, or perhaps one in school. Would he pay $4.99 for it? “Yes.”

My husband thought that the big problem with this app is that it is a function solver, not an equation solver. A function will say, “Give me a couple of inputs and I will solve for one particular answer.” An equation allows you to input all but one of the variables and it will solve for the one you’re missing. This is a big difference. Because of what options are available in this app, you often triple your work to get the information you need. If it was an equation solver, you could just plug in what you have and get what you need.

The Formulator Series includes apps for architects, building engineers, builders, carpenters, civil engineers, electricians, environmental engineers, finance and business people, HVAC professionals, hydraulic engineers, mechanical engineers, plumbers and real estate investors. I can only assume that these other apps have similar strengths and weaknesses.

Individual apps are available for $4.99 to $6.99. They have about 100 of what they consider the most commonly used formulas. The professional packages are available for $9.99 to $19.99. These are bundled with the full regulations and also have the formulas from the individual apps.

Wired: It gives a lot of calculations that you might need quickly. Might be great for new engineers or engineering students. Good price.

Tired: It is by no means comprehensive. There are large gaps in what it covers. It seems to need some proofreading and more explanation.

Bottom line: A good start to a program that with a number of updates and enhancements could be a great program.

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