Engineers eye online searches for equations, but results underwhelm

Engineers conduct more searches for equations online, but they are dissatisfied with the results, a 2013 survey conducted on behalf of Knovel found. 

A majority of engineers surveyed look for equations at least once a week, and increasingly they search via the Internet first, rather than references, handbooks and other sources. 

Use of Internet search tools has grown significantly, from 59% of engineers surveyed in 2010 to 78% of engineers surveyed in 2013. Yet, engineers do not easily find the specific equations they need for a variety of engineer tasks online. There is also low satisfaction with the process of documenting, validating and saving equations for future use.

In the 2013 survey of 200 engineers, primarily mechanical engineers from companies with more than 1,000 employees, online search surpassed printed material (including books and manuals) as the first place engineers go to find equations. About 92% of engineers searching online rely on public search engines such as Google, up from 41% in 2010. 

Although Google is the first place engineers turn, it is the least satisfying for results, the study finds. Many things are easier to find online now, but specific equations are not among them.

Once engineers find the right equation, they face additional challenges including using the right tool to perform their calculations and accessing an integrated solution to validate and share calculations. About 47% surveyed write the equation out on paper. 

Engineers rely on several different software tools, including scientific calculators, MATLAB and Mathcad, for their calculation needs. However, Microsoft Excel tops the list for use and dominates how engineers share equations. Excel was not designed with engineering needs in mind. 

While engineers do go online to search for the equations they need, they still go offline for calculation and validation of their work. Of note, 87% surveyed use their hard drive to save their calculation and 84% use Excel to share their calculation with peers.

"The web offers convenient and seemingly easy search options for engineers looking for resources to support them as they perform their jobs, but they need to find relevant and reliable answers they can trust to increase productivity as well as their confidence in the results," said Meagan Cooke, a senior director with Knovel. 

"Focused on the needs of engineers, Knovel continuously engages with the engineering community to identify ways to improve the engineering workflow with tools and trusted content and data. This survey highlights some of the challenges that can be improved for engineers." 

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