A mix of utilities and CAD and automation tools characterizes our first roundup of engineering applications for the iPad.
In searching Apple's App Store, it's obvious that there's a lot of low-hanging technical fruit. Most notable is the plethora of engineering unit conversion programs. We've included a few we found of particular interest to mechanical and industrial engineers. There are also many apps of value only to captive users of a particular vendor's products; we've included some with widespread user bases.
Click the image below to view our slideshow of useful engineering apps:
This native viewer for the ubiquitous DWG CAD file format supports both 2D and 3D renditions. Usability features include pan and zoom. Files can be accessed via ftp or Dropbox. $3.99. Go here.
Clearly, our starter list isn't comprehensive. Still, we believe it's a good beginning. We're also interested in your favorites for a followup gallery. Please send your picks to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We do a lot of concept work using RhinoCad which can be "translated" into all the high end CAD systems. A scaled 3D model is copied from the laptop into a netbook together with notes, spreadsheets, sketches AND RhinoCad itself. We then go along to the client and either connect the netbook to a borrowed monitor or project it to a large screen and carry out the design audit in house. Any changes requested by the client are added directly to the CAD model using the annotation facility in RhinoCad with the objects requiring revision transferred to another layer. Moreover, if the client wants a CAD copy of what has been done it can be transferred to the inhouse CAD system via the IGES or STEP facility built into RhinoCad. The netbook capabilities and portability and the keyboard are vastly superior for design work...maybe when the I-pad comes down to the price of the netbooks we'll give it another look.
I have to agree with Jim. After using my 24 or 25.5" monitor for design work most of the time, it is somewhat frustrating to use a 15" laptop when I travel, let alone a 10" tablet. For engineering apps like conversion programs and even language translators, my Windows phone 7.5 fits the bill very nicely and is small enough to clip onto my belt (much like my HP-21 calculator did in the 70s).
I'd love to get a tablet - but I just can't figure out what it would do for me, besides be very cool to have. The App list illustrates that the only real function is viewing drawings, which could be very useful, but a laptop can do that better - even a relatively small one. All the other Apps are available on the web, so even my Android phone can do them. As someone mentioned, a keyboard is a must if I wanted to use it for taking notes, so there, again, a laptop would be better. I saw a note about an engineer getting an Android tablet - is there an advantage to Android vs. iPad? When I can get an iPad II for $500 vs. the MUCH less capable Android based Kindle Fire for $200, it seems I'd forever regret not spending the extra $300. But, I haven't done either yet, because I just don't see it as anything more than a toy. An awesome toy.
I've acquired an IPad for use in my airplane as an electronic flight bag displaying charts and other data, and it is wonderful at that. I have come to value it as away to access the internet without all the flapdoodle associated with booting a computer. It is a great device foer consuming information, but not so great at creating information.
My personal favorite engineering app for the IPad (and IPhone!) is the HP calcualtor RPN emulating PCalc app. Many of us who embraced (in the 1970's)the HP calculator logic have always been uncomfortable using those addled "regular" calculators. I do not use a handheld calculator for extended engineering calculations much anymore, as I prefer the record and re-usability of a spreadsheet, but it is nice to have a serious calculator in my pocket or on my desk when it is appropriate.
I can see a lot of applications for a tablet in field maintenance and on the test bench.
On the bench, the tablet could serve as the virtual display and control panel for a whole range of instruments connected via usb or wireless. In the field, it could be used to interface to systems with embedded test and maintenance capabilities (like JTAG).
I'd love to have one to start working on apps like this, but it will have to wait 'til they become a little more affordable. Meanwhile, I already have a range of instruments that interface to my laptop, and their a big plus.
When you say "mobile", I think mobile as in a tablet, and very mobile as in a phone.
I always have my phone with me wherever I go, so whatever I use would have to be usable on the phone. If I needed an app that required a tablet or keyboard, I would use a computer instead - a tablet would still be too limiting to be usefull. Exceptions to that would be the touch interface really added value, a viewer that allowed me to rotate/zoom objects, or a virtual control panel using sliders/knobs/buttons/switches.
(I do not have a tablet, but I do have an android phone.)
The Kindle Fire is a limited capability Android platform, and may be a poor comparison to a more complete android device. My Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S) also includes TWO cameras, accelerometers, and a magnetometer, all of which the Kindle appears to lack.
(Why isn't there a spell checker and previewer for these forum posts?)
Consider RealCalc (try before buy, $3.49). This is a virtual scientific calculator that also support decimal/binary/octal/hex conversions and operations, RPN entry, customizable constants, and customizable conversions (ie, add your own constants and conversions).
Good point about mobile, Brett. The definition is/has become fungible. Mobile no longer means just a smartphone, which is what is still my default thought. In the real world, though, the def now includes tablets, and basically actually refers more to a mode of working than to the platform upon which you're doing the work -- the latter (that platform) being almost irrevelant. The one exception I would say is the (lack of a) hard keyboard, which limits input capability on tablets.
I agree that the netbook would be better for creation, but I think the price comparison is a bit low.
One wonders why the convertible notebook computers (where the screen can be rotated 180 degrees then closed again to make a tablet) never caught on. You have the best of both worlds (easy presentation like an I-Pad, full notebook when needed without an extra piece of hardware like external keyboard).
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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