Chad Jackson

Knovel: Modernizing the Engineering Library

January 24, 2012

When it comes to enabling technology, it seems as if all the talk is about CAD, CAE, PDM and PLM. Just based on that, you might think that all engineers do every day is build geometry, run simulations and manage it. But if you’ve been in an engineering office, you know that reality is far …

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Knovel: Modernizing the Engineering Library

When it comes to enabling technology, it seems as if all the talk is about CAD, CAE, PDM and PLM. Just based on that, you might think that all engineers do every day is build geometry, run simulations and manage it. But if you’ve been in an engineering office, you know that reality is far different from that. Engineers select materials, perform calculations, select parts, pick suppliers and much more. All too often, the enabling technology that supports these activities get lost in the torrent of conversations about CAD, CAE, PDM and PLM. With that in mind, I reached out to a few software providers that serve these other activities. One of the first was Knovel. In this post, you’ll find a little bit on the background of the company and its solution, the capabilities it provides and my own commentary and analysis on what it can.

Background

Founded in New York State in 2000, Knovel provides web-based applications that delivers technical information relevant to engineering applications. The technical information is composed of validated content and references, which is split into 28 different content areas, from publishers and professional societies. The web-based application primarily uses search and analytics technologies.

Capabilities Provided

What does Knovel do? In short, Knovel is a tool that lets engineers find technical information they need to make product related decisions.

Think of it this way. As an engineer, you often need to look at different pieces of information to make sure you are making the right decision. You may need to look up how to size piping based on some pressure vessel standards. You may need to verify which materials will not corrode in sea water. You may need the rate at which a chemical reaction will take place. Regardless, you need to find that information before you can make a decision and proceed with your design.

How does Knovel help? First off, the web-based application includes a large amount of technical information. They have more than 3,600 reference works and content from more than 90 publishing partners including publishers, societies and recognized experts and authors. But it’s not some random mishmash of stuff. Knovel proactively engages their customers and leading engineers in the field to seek out content that engineers want and need. The content undergoes a stringent selection methodology as well as a detailed review by an external editorial board. So all of it is related to engineering applications. All of it is validated as accurate content. On top of that, it has search tools so you can find the right content very quickly. That satisfies the need to find technical information quickly and use it for your purpose.

That’s not where the story ends though. They have also build in analytics tools to make that technical information interactive. Why is that important? Technical information in engineering applications can vary quite a bit. Some material properties, for example, vary depending on the temperature. In fact, some vary according to complex mathematical equations. The analytics tools allow engineers to interactively interpolate such information to get the right information under the right conditions without having to calculate it manually.

Commentary and Analysis

What’s the big deal? Compared to how engineers find and use technical information today, the difference can be quite important. As you might expect, engineers often use something like google to search the web for technical information. There’s a few problems with that.

  • Trust: How do you know that the information you find on google is accurate? Maybe you can cross reference technical information to be sure, but that takes additional time. In contrast, the information in Knovel is validated content aggregated from authoritative publishers and societies.
  • Faster: With technical information from something like google, you have to wade through a veritable sea of results. With Knovel, the results are targeted and relevant only to engineering applications. That time you gain can be applied to design work.
  • Interpolation: The technical information you find in google will often need to be interpolated to match the operating environment of your product. Doing that manually takes time. WIth Knovel, the tools are included so again, you save time.

But the story isn’t completely positive. Just yesterday, Apple launched iBooks2 Textbooks. The whole idea there is to twofold. First, they want textbooks to go electronic and, as a result, the total costs for textbooks should go down. Second, they envision more interactive textbooks. They will include 3D objects, browse able galleries and interactive images as part of eBooks. This initiative is aimed squarely at the education community where Knovel is used by many universities today. It seems like there may be some overlaps in the interactive side of things between what Apple sees for the future of textbooks and what Knovel already provides these organizations. Although I would suggest that Knovel’s analytics tools are more scientifically interactive than the examples Apple is trotting out. But furthermore, there is no equivalent functionality to let users search across an engineering-centric set of references and content. What will be the impact overall? I’m not sure. But they are related.

Conclusion and Questions

Knovel provides a web-based application that engineers can use to search, find and then interpolate engineering technical information. In comparison to googling for this same information, Knovel has advantages in that their information is trustworthy, because they have validated it, is more quickly accessible, because you don’t have to wade through extraneous results, and interactive. I think that Apple’s plans with iBooks2 Textbooks will be relevant to Knovel at some point, but right now, it is not exactly clear how.

There’s my perspective on Knovel’s offering. Now I have a couple of questions for you. How often you do you search out technical information? What sources do you trust? I’m curious to get hear back.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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