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Engineers eye online searches for equations, but results underwhelm

02.10.2014  | 

A majority of engineers surveyed look for equations at least once a week, and increasingly they search via the Internet first, rather than references, handbooks and other sources.


Engineers conduct more searches for equations online, but they are dissatisfied with the results, a 2013 survey conducted on behalf of Knovel found. 

A majority of engineers surveyed look for equations at least once a week, and increasingly they search via the Internet first, rather than references, handbooks and other sources. 

Use of Internet search tools has grown significantly, from 59% of engineers surveyed in 2010 to 78% of engineers surveyed in 2013. Yet, engineers do not easily find the specific equations they need for a variety of engineer tasks online. There is also low satisfaction with the process of documenting, validating and saving equations for future use.

In the 2013 survey of 200 engineers, primarily mechanical engineers from companies with more than 1,000 employees, online search surpassed printed material (including books and manuals) as the first place engineers go to find equations. About 92% of engineers searching online rely on public search engines such as Google, up from 41% in 2010. 

Although Google is the first place engineers turn, it is the least satisfying for results, the study finds. Many things are easier to find online now, but specific equations are not among them.

Once engineers find the right equation, they face additional challenges including using the right tool to perform their calculations and accessing an integrated solution to validate and share calculations. About 47% surveyed write the equation out on paper. 

Engineers rely on several different software tools, including scientific calculators, MATLAB and Mathcad, for their calculation needs. However, Microsoft Excel tops the list for use and dominates how engineers share equations. Excel was not designed with engineering needs in mind. 

While engineers do go online to search for the equations they need, they still go offline for calculation and validation of their work. Of note, 87% surveyed use their hard drive to save their calculation and 84% use Excel to share their calculation with peers.

"The web offers convenient and seemingly easy search options for engineers looking for resources to support them as they perform their jobs, but they need to find relevant and reliable answers they can trust to increase productivity as well as their confidence in the results," said Meagan Cooke, a senior director with Knovel. 

"Focused on the needs of engineers, Knovel continuously engages with the engineering community to identify ways to improve the engineering workflow with tools and trusted content and data. This survey highlights some of the challenges that can be improved for engineers." 

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César Morales

It is really disappointing to realize that too many engineers look for equations, quick online answers, 'rules of thumb', and simplified solutions for everything, while deeply ignoring and overlooking fundamentals.
I do believe that if things continue like this, we will have entire generations unable to read and understand anything that is beyond 140 characters. I mean it seriously! and I'm afraid that we are already in this scenario.
A good professional, a "best of class" engineer, must always be able to understand the rules, laws and fundamentals behind equations (that are just an author's simplified way of explaining a physical behavior). Equations do have constraints, and do have ranges of validity, and do have conditions for which they can be used. However, fundamentals are universal.
If someone is able to dominating the fundamentals of a discipline, the most complex equation or problem may become simple (because you will get “know how”).
The internet has spread out the doors of instantaneous information any time, anywhere. We are now able to do research without even putting one foot out on the street (something unimaginable just a few years ago), but we all have to be careful on what we read. Not all information that we find on the internet is reliable, so we cannot just trust on it because it was published on a web page.
Engineers are professionals that are trained to develop critical thinking. If critical thinking is replaced by software, search engines, and ‘equations', I believe that we'll end up having good computer operators, and too many unskilled engineers.

babahammou baligh

Computer is used to download programs and poured it information and application included the need for computer memory IP to provide the correct knowledge of the client and the user either by using design and engineering information of time specified company productions past and present, to follow the facts and accomplished in the domestic and international markets , for example, violation of an e-book with the insurance industry brands and its partners in the computer and a warning of weakness piracy and counterfeiting misleading information and trade mission by the company with the opening of an account with the phone line to transmit accurate information quickly and evenly matched Thank you ....

Jaime Bárcena López

The engineer on line search as a "bird´s eye view" fail is up to "what kind of equations they are looking for, because internet does not substitute engineering experience time and standars code use & also internet is not a tool to avoid use of long time to learn how to do something.

Therefore, engineers,must look onlinet for technical fundamentals then aplicate them to integrate their own equations they are searching for... Because, for example: there is not a way to avoid time to find out energy balances without use of Bernoulli´s equation balance ... and include thermodynamic balance view also, indeed. One wayor procedure to integrate engineering equations is
A: make a mass and energy balance.
B With M&E balance make calculations for dimention the system
C with such sytem dimentioned make specification using standars

With the long mastering practice of such "ABC" engineer" of every specialization can do properly their designs. Therefore, later with such ABC domination can do their own equations at last

Alag G

Can anyone interpret what our friend Mr. Baba H Baligh says? Unable to comprehend what this HPI Reader's view point is? Thank you. Alag G

Allan Stirling

This applies only to small companies as the major companies have approved and verifiable methods of performing most calculations. The method is usually dictated by the Technical Authority and QA department. It goes without saying that the calculations must be checked by someone higher up the food chain. Such calculations especially those out of the ordinary must state the source basis and the checker must be satisfied that the source is a reliable one or demand that an alternative method be employed as a check. Two sources such as the Internet are not normally of required reliability and useful only as a rough guide. Industry standards should only be the ones to follow.


Some engineers use Simulation/engineering software like playstation without understanding the underlying principles and theory. This creates problem when they are asked for interpreation of the results. This is for example the situations where one makes bad or wrong entries and gets in turn (off course) wrong outcomes.


This looks about right to me. My experience is all the code calculations are in proprietary software but any first principle stuff is more difficult and excel is the software of choice for many equations

mr; babahammou baligh

Engineers are increasingly using online searches to assist in the equations, because the reason for the timing of the selected countries and the places allocated and conditions and the influence of climate in the production of and solutions appropriate for the results Computer Hotline and understanding levels and speculation and rely on luck individually and collectively in the process of the company's success and progress in rates planned her and thank you....

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