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.
Nice slide show, Alex. Quite a range of apps, and it seems Siemens is particularly advanced in mobile apps. It's also encouraging that many of these companies are providing their apps at no charge. That's is a no-brainer, since customers are already spending considerable sums for the technology.
Several apps that are ideal in a mobile setting are shown in the slide show (slides #4, #8, #9, #10 and #11). These apps are very useful when available at your fingertips during a meeting or field activity. Websites that are formatted for mobile devices also meet these needs and should be discussed too. http://AnalysisChamp.com is a great example of a site with advanced calculation and unit converter capabilities that is formatted for a mobile device and free to use any time.
Thanks, Jack. It's interesting to me that, utlities excepted, many of these iPad apps are adjuncts to the real thing, rather than full-blown, standalone programs. I think that's a function of the data-entry limitations of the tablet form-factor.
I can definitely see usefulness of the Autodesk App for production floor use of CAD drawings. A lot of times it would be nice to have a good viewer for drawings that can be brought to meetings or to the production line.
I have to agree. Running any CAD routine, the bigger the screen you have, the easier it is to truly develop your design solution.As a design engineer its more necessity than luxury when designing on a 42” flat screen, or at least two adjacent screens.I just wouldn’t be comfortable driving a little tablet as my tool of choice, unless using it for just the processor then augmenting it with a larger display. Then I could always use my pocket-folding Targus QWERTY keypad I’ve had since 2001. Gotta have a keyboard.
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).
Alex: I think the whole key to making the mobile platform successful is to figure out where the mobility equation fits in with the way engineers work--be it, on the road for design reviews with customers or going home at night and needing to finish a simulation--and creating apps to meet those specific needs. Given the significant graphics rendering and performance requirements of full-blown CAD modeling or simulation tools, I don't think any one is expecting the full tool to translate to the more limited processing and screen real estate of a mobile tablet or smart phone. There would be too many tradeoffs and it wouldn't fill a need--rather, it would just be pursuing technology for technology's sake.
Autodesk actually has the largest selection of mobile apps thus far and is taking the platform really seriously, particularly for its AEC segment.
As you noted, Beth, I've just mentioned one Autodesk mobile app, whereas there are actually more. Same deal with the other vendors. This is a starter list and I'll go with the suggestions to broaden and also to include Android in future iterations.
Well noted, Alex. And as far as Android goes, most companies are definitely planning to release for Android as well. Typically it's first up for Apple iOS and then Android follows in fairly short order.
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 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).
To answer "why the convertible notebook computrs never caught on".
From my experience having looked at those for years and never been convinced to buy one, they were :
- twice the price or more of the Ipad
- half or less of the battery life of the Ipad
- heavier than the Ipad
- mechanically fragile
To TJ and Franck, I was at the press introduction of the first generation of Windows-based Tablet PCs in 2002, and did a lot of coverage at the time, including an article for IEEE Spectrum. I have to say they were nowhere near as bad as people now claim. They were advanced for the time. True, the Windows for Pen Computing didn't work quite as well as claimed. And the Toshiba convertibles were cumbersome (that's what I'd call them, as opposed to fragile). My ex post facto take is that they failed because of a) price and b) there wasn't a perceived need for them at the time. I think that's what Steve Jobs brought to the party with the iPad. He created a "need" for a device that people hadn't really been all that interested in before. He did it by making the tablet a good looking and desireable consumer product. In conclusion, I think sometimes Microsoft takes the rap for failure when the failure wasn't really its fault. Those 2002 tablets laid the foundation for what followed.
For the small story and responding on "created a "need" for a device", I was following tablets since 2000 because of that need, and I ended using until 2008 the psion Netbook (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psion_netBook) designed before 2000. What it had valuable for me, was 10hours battery autonomy, touch screen, light weight (~1kg), a super stable OS with instant switch-on, many useful apps (email, browser, games, HP RPN calc emulator, ..) and the best, a full word processor integrating spreadsheet tables, charts and on-screen drawings. Those specs I wanted from a tablet or convertible was certainly not achieved by any of the PC-based ones. The need was there, the technology was there, but no product before the Ipad succeded in convincing a large public. Franck (written on IPad)
Point well taken, Franck. What I was trying to say is that, in retrospect, Microsoft should be given more credit for attempting to seed the technology than they've been given. (They've received none, and have been bashed instead.) As you note, it's more a case that the capabilities weren't there, even circa 2008, and this relates I think more to available processor power than to product conceptualization or a desire to field something. The ubiquity of computing cycles today -- they are essentially free -- does indeed make a difference. (Well, they're still not free in the smartphone form factor, which is another story/discussion in and of itself.)
Dear Alexander, I have to correct, the only credit I would give to Microsoft is to not have been able to propose any good solution to that market need. My credits are first for the “Psion” founders (David Potter, .. ; ref :http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1434369.stm) who pushed since the 80’s for a solution for handheld computer, and created an advanced solution for the time (the Psion 3, 5, revo, netbook). And second for Apple (Steve Jobs) who broke the total inertia (Microsoft based-solutions) existing in that product line, proposed an innovative product (iphone, ipad) and did a superb work in proposing value for non-technical users. For the small story again, to remind the NON-support of Microsoft for those technologies, please listen to Steve Ballmer on Iphone (2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eywi0h_Y5_U&feature=youtube_gdata_player ). This is going a little out of topic, but history of technology is one of my subject of interest.
Franckb- I agree with you that the Psion was a great product. I'd also like to mention the original Toshiba Libretto, circa 1996. This wasn't a tablet, but a true, downsized mini, right down to the chiclet-sized keys. I remember when I took it on airplanes, the flight atttendants always wanted to check it out.
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.
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?)
iPADs and the like are media consumption devices. They are not good at creating (where KB/Mouse is the most productive input dev)
We use iPADs on our factory floor for work instructions where they view PDFs on our network. My wife and I each have one. She reads books and posts on facebook. I browse the net and watch TV (usually in Bed).
The new iPAD3 display is stunning.
One of my pet peeves is the computer industry has gone backwards in monitor resolution. ie Try getting a 1920x1200 screen now in a laptop. The highest you can now get is 1920x1050, and most laptops are 1366x768 or some similar miserable resolution. I would dearly love 300DPI monitors. (I know one of the issues is windows doen't do vector scaling)
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.)
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.
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).
A web application at http://AnalysisChamp.com is capable of performing expression evaluation with complex unit conversion. It includes a list of searchable units that can be entered as expressions and returned in desired units. The webpage is formatted for desktop or mobile device screens and is free.
I entered your example (assuming that "m" = meters and "um" = micrometers) and it returned 9.09E6. It also has magnetic, luminescence, electric, viscocity, energy, force, mass, pressure, temperature, time, velocity and other unit types.
Very impressed with iPocket Draw. I quickly work with a client on a spontanelus idea or, particularly good, is to draw up a full CAD and walk through making moderate changes. Later we go back through the changes and verify on the 'big screen'.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most, if not all of these apps available for a laptop and smart phone? I think if I must carry something other my smart phone, it will be a laptop with an I3 processor (or better) that I can dock to a 24-inch monitor for efficient CAD work at my place of destination. I3 laptops are now going for $400 - less costly than a smaller tablet and yet much more versatile.
Tablets are not, as most of us know. I have one from the mid 90's, it runs an 386, and another that s running a P3. They were pretty much a niche market before. But technology is always upping, so bashing old tech is pointless, 10 yrs from now what we use now will be laughed at.
I thing as a CAD/CAM user we use what is best for our needs at the point in time that it's best solution. If it makes my job more productive, I don't care who makes it. It will be outdated next year anyway, and I will using something else by then.
These apps in the article could be useful given the right need.
Thanks for the info on current Tech/software.
For those of us that like nostalgia, I'd add one: Virtual Slide Rule, from the Interrobang Group. An excellent electronic representation of the Pickett N3-ES, with instructions. Brings back great memories and helps keep math history alive!
I too have used and would like to see more apps like iCircuit. I would also like to see a pSpice tie-in app as well as a component EDA Librarian for iCircuit, so we could expand the 30+ components and families to include other glue logic, FPGA DSP and - why not - even tubes!
It would go a long way towards removing the iPad from toy status and turning it into a real work platform.
Let's hope, short of jail-breaking your device and running Linux variants on it, you could actually turn the iPAD (and other tablets) into a valuable workhorse type of highly portable tool.
Thanks for citing iCircuit. Most of the posts had to do with Electro-Mechanical apps or add-ons and viewers.
Why not some really productive tools that allow creation at first hand in the iOS domain rather than doing all the work on big desktops and saving the tablets to passing the work around for comment? Not to belittle that aspect. It is invaluable, but must we always be tied to our big computers?
For those of us who are mechanical engineers, I have a few recommendations to offer for good iPad apps. I echo the earlier sentiment about how most apps for iPad are more for novelty than utility. I'm happy to include a few exceptions to the rule.
One is called "IntSteamTable" for International Steam Tables. Although you have to pay a fee for it, I have used it a lot! I highly recommend it for those trying to do powerplant calculations or other types of analysis requiring quick and accurate answers from steam tables. It's based on the IAPWS-IF97 tables which are fairly common. I was VERY impressed and have found it VERY useful. iPad apps for engineering are not always this robust.
Another is called "Compressible" which is a calculator for isentropic compressible flow relations, normal and oblique shock, Fanno and Rayleigh types of flow. For the aerospace engineer, it's an awesome tool to have as I recently had cause to dig up my aerospace chops to get a valve problem solved. This is an iPhone app that is stretched to fit the iPad. (Anyone else find that annoying? having to stretch an iPhone app into iPad... )
thanks for the sliderule app recommendation (speaking of geek novelties). I have one made by TestTubeGames. I'll check out the other one.
this is more of a recommendation for a future app for iPad:
A potentially awesome app would be if someone would take the time to build an iPad app for stress and strain types of problems. Using Roark's Stress and Strain as a guide would be a good start. It's a huge catalog of closed-form solutions to common and weirdly recurring stress and strain problems. For those who do nuts and bolts kind of mechanism evaluations, this would be priceless. The iPad is very graphic so the pictures of the different setups with the variables clearly illustrated would be easily doable. The user could just punch in the input variables and get an answer dumped out quickly, then adjust the values as needed to get the right answer for the specific job. Many stress/strain kinds of problems can be simplified so that you don't need a full-blown FEA model.
Most of the time, your boss won't want you to spend that kind of time getting that kind of accuracy if it's a fairly inconsequential issue.
I just discovered this one, but not sure about its utility...at least it was free?
Mechanical engineers sometimes need to deal with HVAC types of issues and that means dealing with the pyschrometric charts to figure out how much water is in the air and how much cooling you can get...etc
Reets Drying Academy has made a specialized app for this kind of general purpose although it is specific to his terminology and application for water damage professionals. It's worthy to note. There's always room for other apps in the same flavor.
It's really too bad that all you promote is iPad, especially considering that Apple is rapidly losing market share to Android. Forget "the rest of us", how 'bout articles and apps for "the most of us"?
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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