For the past thirty years, I have used several mathematical packages for problem solving and graphing. It all started with spreadsheet software that really helped speedup calculations compared to calculators. As many people do, once I had one tool I then started looking for another that would offer even more capabilities and features. I tested several of the very early math software but none really did all that I wanted until I came across Maple while I was working at SPAR Aerospace in Canada. For me, the rest is history. As long as I had a copy of Maple, it was all that I needed.
On occasions when I did not have a copy of this amazing software, I resorted to spreadsheets once more to complete fairly large and complex projects involving large databases and large numbers of calculations, especially when performing What-If scenarios. One distinct disadvantage of using a spreadsheet was the cryptic form of equation writing. I had to divide one long equation into several sections in different cells and then add them all up, which clearly is not good for documentation of the calculations. It is also very confusing for other engineers to know what that equation is or what it does. The development of the full engineering spreadsheet took months to complete, debug and verify. During this process, when I had errors, it was often very difficult to track exactly where the problem was, making the debugging process time consuming and sometimes very frustrating.
Having worked with Maple before, I remembered how easy it was to enter equations in a very familiar, readable math format. The real power of this software is that it allows you to write the equation(s) anyway you like and solve for any given parameter, unlike spreadsheets where you have to solve the problem first, by hand, for the parameter you want and then get the spreadsheet to calculate the value. I remember one time a few years ago when I wrote nine or ten simultaneous differential equations all in symbolic form and asked Maple to calculate certain parameters in a fully symbolic form. To my utmost disbelief, the answer came back within few minutes. With results in hand, I was able to quickly finish my research, and the results were published at PCIM Europe 2005 in “Distributed Gate ESR and its Effect on Shoot Through Performance at the Die Level”. I would never have gotten the results I needed if I was using a spreadsheet.
Even with much simpler systems of equations, finding solutions with a paper and pencil was never an easy task for me. It took a very long time, and even then there was no guarantee that I did not make copying errors, accidentally leave out a term, or make a calculation error. After I found the correct solution, I then had the problem of plotting the results, which I often needed in 3-D. Plotting allowed much deeper insights into the interdependency of all the parameters and made it easy for me to concentrate on the important ones without wasting any time. I was very happy when I could pass all these tasks onto Maple, which could do them much faster and more reliably then I ever could. Maple is a software that allows me to go beyond routine engineering calculations and gives me the tools to reach levels of insight and understanding that were completely out of reach of the average engineer until a few years ago.
For the record, I have no business affiliations with Maplesoft. I’m writing this article because Maple makes such a difference in my work that I feel it is important to share my experiences so other engineers can get the same benefits.