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Engineering Information at Your Fingertips

Engineering Information at Your Fingertips

When TRANE Commercial Systems Engineer Jerry Rubitski began working on a project using thermoset plastic material, neither he nor his co-workers knew much about it. The same happened when the company was working on an HVAC project.

Rubitski says he could have simply typed both topics into an Internet search engine, but he was afraid the information he received wouldn't be reliable enough for his projects. That's why the company subscribes to Knovel, a subscription-based online resource used by engineers around the world.

"All of our customers are institutional subscribers," says Knovel President and CEO Chris Forbes. "The company as a whole would subscribe to our service and the users would access it through the Web, probably through their Intranet." Subscription plans cost anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000 annually, he says.

Rubitski says TRANE started its 30 to 60 day trial period about a year ago and decided to subscribe once the trial was up. "I think on average I use it once a week, once every two weeks," he says. "As a design engineer, a project has many phases. I might be using it every day for a couple of weeks and then I could go a month without using it." launched in 2001. It is used by 80 of the Fortune 500 companies and 400 to 500 academic institutions, according to Forbes. He says Knovel has 50 to 60 content partners that license information to the company and it also produces numerical data Knovel researchers have gathered. "We enhance a lot of the data by making it more useful or compatible with other sorts of solution software," he says.

Knovel is especially useful to companies who lose the vast knowledge of people who retire or employees whose positions are downsized, Forbes says. "There are a lot of concerns around continuity and thought," he says. "There are people that go down the elevator at night or walk out into the parking lot that may not be coming back in the morning. People retire and a lot of their know-how is locked in their head."

According to Forbes, many companies are starting an "information culture." "They value the information that is in their employees' heads. They try to make it available to as many people as they possibly can," he says. "More and more organizations are developing knowledge cultures. They know they can't rely on just know-how."

Ross Graber, Knovel's director of marketing, says the site currently holds more than 1,800 reference works and more are constantly being added. "In the last 14 months, we've increased our content by about 30 percent," he says.

Rubitski says Knovel researchers added HVAC references to accommodate his needs when he was working on a project about a year ago. "I was able to look it up, read up on it and even design rules of thumb and mechanical properties," he says. "It was useful in the beginning of the project, just to learn."

Rubitski says five of TRANE's 10 full-time product engineers rely on Knovel.

"We track down the appropriate published work, license it, digitize it and enhance it for our system," says Graber. "We are putting the information in front of them in a much more organized way."

Knovel also provides tutorials on its site, and all information is interactive and can easily be converted into spreadsheets. The site also provides calculations and unit conversions, according to Graber.

"We pride ourselves on taking the data that has been in print and making it more valuable. Engineers can actually work with it," Graber says. "We are presenting reliability and interactivity."

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