Beyond 3-D models and structured mathematical calculations, numbers are a universal mainstay of product development organizations tucked away in emails, spreadsheets and the heads of individual engineers. True Engineering Technology, a new company founded by Allen Razdow, the inventor of the Mathcad engineering and scientific calculation tool, has come up with a new technology designed to makes these ad hoc numbers more accessible to a wider audience.
Mining the unstructured and community-based approach of Web 2.0 technology, truenumbers is new semantic technology that takes numbers from a static existence and turns them into a rich data type that can be embedded into documents and workflows. While Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Product Data Management (PDM) systems have been widely adopted to create a home for structured engineering data, the truenumbers technology makes it easy to create, format, classify and search ad hoc numbers throughout engineering and the organization at large in any kind of document and by including rich context, according to Razdow.
Razdow's goal was to find a way to better leverage numbers that fit within the social context of how most engineers collaborate. "The average engineering workgroup has anywhere from several dozen to several hundred numbers that are 'in the air,'" Razdow says. "We wanted to create a technology for numbers that allows this ad hoc work style to continue, but still delivers control, traceability and provides enough productivity that engineers would want to use it."
To do so, True Engineering released a set of tools for representing numbers as truenumbers, what it describes as machine-readable, URL-like data. truenumbers are live and connected within the desktop applications where they reside and they add value to numerical information by providing some nugget of context - for example, units, tolerance information, critical properties and sourcing information, among other data. Anyone can create truenumbers for use in HTML-enabled applications like email and Microsoft applications using the free Create a Number application, and registered users can access and store truenumbers in the free, public numberspace repository. For engineering organizations looking to complement their PLM technology with an internal numbers repository, True Engineering is offering client-based applications for creating and working with truenumbers as well as a server-based numberspace repository.
Providing a "holder of framework" for passing along numbers embedded with their context could be a great time saver for engineers, who often have to take time out of their design work to verify or even recalculate numbers to ensure they are accurate, according to Bruce Jenkins, CEO of Ora Research, a consultancy specializing in design and manufacturing engineering. "Engineering work, in essence, involves a transmission of numbers - the trouble has been with issues of trust and context," Jenkins says. "Any kind of engineering calculation done through the concept phase to detailed design involves handing off a number. The struggle has been to hand it off with enough context so the recipient knows what to do with it and has confidence that the number is good."