Chad Jackson

As an engineer, you very possibly may have found yourself in the following situation. You’ve prepped for a engineering status meetings. You aggregated your information on slides or maybe a document. As you start to begin to deliver your status, one of the manager singles out one of your calculations and calls it into question. Does it include the latest design changes? Did it come from a paper calculation or an FEA analysis? Has it been validated in the test lab?

Managing Engineering Numbers with Truenumbers

This series of posts will cover new product releases, changes in product strategy and acquisitions by engineering software providers affect engineering stakeholders. New posts in this series will be published based on software provider activities. Today’s post takes a close look at True Engineering Technology’s first product called Truenumbers.

As an engineer, you very possibly may have found yourself in the following situation. You’ve prepped for a engineering status meetings. You aggregated your information on slides or maybe a document. As you start to begin to deliver your status, one of the manager singles out one of your calculations and calls it into question. Does it include the latest design changes? Did it come from a paper calculation or an FEA analysis? Has it been validated in the test lab? Unfortunately, you didn’t bring the relevant notes for that exact number. Who would have brought notes for that exact one? There are literally hundreds if not thousands of numbers you deal with one this project. The only thing you can tell the manager is that you’ll have to get back to them. And you, for your trouble, get another action item for the next meeting.

That type of all too familiar story is a pretty good context to start a discussion about True Engineering Technology (corporate site) and their product Truenumbers.

History, Dates and Events: True Engineering Technology was founded by Allen Razdow, who also founded the MathCAD (wikipedia entry) product that was subsequently acquired by PTC (wikipedia entry). The product has been under development and is now available for commercial use.

Capabilities Provided by Truenumbers: The best way to explain what this software does it to simply walk through how its used.

  • Create numbers in the Truenumbers client: To start, you create a number by building it up in truespeak, which is a standardized language to identify a number’s attributes and properties like unit of measure, dimension type and notes. It automatically captures other characteristics like original value, who created it and when. This client actually provides information you can then copy and paste into other applications.
  • Use the truenumber in other applications: From there you basically copy and paste the truenumber into other applications whether that be a document, spreadsheet, presentation, CAD (which may require a special adapter) or any other type of application. In each place you paste the truenumber, it shows up not only as a value but also as a micro-formatted hyperlink where you can see the subject and the number’s units.

Behind the scenes is something called the Numberflow Server which is hosted in the cloud, but also could be hosted locally for more security. Besides carrying some of the properties of the truenumber along with it, following the hyperlink essentially goes the properties page for that truenumber. As a result, the number carries along it’s characteristics and attributes as it travels through different deliverables by linking back to a single source of truth in the Numberflow Server.

As a point of clarification, this is not a product for engineering calculations. It does not allow you to enter formulae, drop in variable values and derive a result. In that context, this product would provide the values for the variables in the equation with a source of truth behind it.

Commentary: What’s the good and the bad? To start, this software addresses a set of problems that I think engineers have simply assumed cannot be solved. Individually managing and tracking documentation takes considerable time in addition to the fact that the notes could be easily lost. And to be frankly honest, spending time managing notes about numbers is a non-value added activity with respect to advancing the product towards its final definition… if it can be done in an automated and accurate manner.Their precious time could be far better leveraged in other places. Furthermore, this software addresses the issue around copying and pasting numbers with the wrong intent. That often happens when the context is not understood or a conversion is made incorrectly. In these two cases, I see value in the software.

However, it doesn’t come without potential improvements. This software essentially standardizes numbers but doesn’t yet manage them. You see, truenumbers cannot be changed but can be copied and modified. I could see great value in managing how a number changes during the development cycle, however it is not possible as of yet. Think about a number that is used in a pre-release product and a post-release product. You might need to change the number for the pre-release product but need to do so carefully with the post-release product. Furthermore, I could easily see how the capabilities to manage numbers should eventually reside alongside the capabilities to manage the deliverables in which those numbers are used. Whether that is a Product Data Management (wikipedia entry) system, Product Lifecycle Management (wikipedia entry) system or a Content Management System (wikipedia entry) system, I don’t know. But integrating those two sets of capabilities would enable some wider capabilities such as where used or even some automated change notification and propagation. It’s possible to manually integrated the systems today, however an out-of-the-box one makes sense.

Summary and Conclusions: True Engineering Technology provides a software solution called Truenumbers that is composed of a client and a server. The software provides the ability to create truenumbers and then copy and paste them into different deliverables as a number that is hyperlinked back to a property page that acts as a source of truth. This software has the potential to address the problem of propagating changes to numbers in engineering deliverables to avoid errors and problems associated with manual change propagation. This in turn could eliminate unnecessary change orders and even errors when the product is in the customer’s hands. Eventually however, this software does need some basic management capabilities such as access control. Furthermore, integration with which ever system manages engineering deliverables could provide further value.

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