Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 5 / MAY 1985 / PAGE 12

Computers and engineering: a winning combination. Betsy Staples.

The problem: Survey all the National Guard armories in the state of New Jersey and prepare specific recommendations for energy conservation and cost saving for each.

The solution: Lotus Symphony, an IBM PC, and lots of memory.

When William C. Baumann, a consulting engineer based in New Vernon, NJ, was awarded the contract by the State Department of Defense, he knew that he faced a mountain of data and hundreds of thousands of calculations. He also knew it was a perfect job for a computer.

Each of the State's 40 armories had to be surveyed by a person in the field using a checklist of 50 energy-related items. The data were then fed into the IBM PC where they formed the basis of the reports Baumann would ultimately give to the State.

The Symphony templated was created by Baumann's son, Bill, whose experience with IBM and DEC minis stood him in good stead.

The database portion of the Symphony templated includes tables containing prices of insulation, weatherstripping, storm windows, dampers, control valves, overall energy management systems, and other energy saving devices and materials. It also provides information needed to calculate the actual amount of energy to be saved in each building. "Without a computer to keep track of all this," says Baumann, "you would lose your mind."

The spreadsheet matrix is 16 x 4000, a situation that caused problems as the project progressed and memory began to run short. At the outset, they added 128K to their original 512K machine, but soon exhausted that and added another 256K to the motherboard and 512K of directly addressable memory with a plug-in ODM board from Mega-Omega Systems of Dallas, TX. Even that was to prove insufficient, and they ultimately had to trade up to a PC XT with a 10Mb hard disk.

Their original plan was to carry a Panasonic Sr. Partner to each building and enter the checklist data on site, but the matrix grew too large for the Panasonic, and they reverted to pencil and paper for the information gathering phase of the project.

Once the data have been entered, calculations can easily be done as many times as necessary to correct errors and investigate alternate plans. "In the past, it could take days to correct a single error, and we seldom had the luxury of saying 'What if...' Now we can try different solutions until we find the one that is best for the owner of the property being surveyed. It's actually a pleasure to make changes."

When he is satisfied with the recommendations presented by the program, Baumann prints out the finished report using a template in the word processing section of Symphony. Here he hit another snag. Each of the reports is 60 to 80 pages long, and his faithful Epson MX-80 was simply too slow. So he added a Hewlett Packard Laser Printer to his hardware collection and found that printing time was reduced to one quarter of Epson speed. "Five years ago," he notes, "a human typist would have spent days typing and correcting just one report."

The finished report that he presents to the Department of Defense has four primary sections: specific recommendations (replace faulty steam traps, replace incandescent light fixtures, caulk window frames, etc.), details of the costs associated with each recommendation, the payback period on each recommendation, and a list of sources (engineering calculations, price lists, etc.) used in preparing the report. These topics are discussed in detail in the narrative section of the report and summarized in tabular form.

Is the system worth the time and money Baumann and his son put into it? "Definitely. The system has definitely paid for itself.

"The computer has cut our work by about 10 to 1, and by allowing us to investigate innumerable permutations, we can do a better job for the owner of the property," Baumann says. Ongoing government surveys of schools and other public buildings should ensure that Baumann's computer system remains productive for some time to come.

The Other Side of the Coin

Another computer system that allows Baumann to do a better job for his clients is the Carrier 2000Jr. computer aided design package that also runs on his PC. In contrast to the Symphony-based system, the CAD system enables him to do a better job not by saving time but by allowing him to produce better quality drawings that can be changed easily and are less subject to error than drawings produced manually. "Frankly, I can do the drawings much faster by hand; it is the ability to make changes quickly and easily that makes the system worthwhile."

The package, which consists of a 512K IBM PC, an HP 7475A Plotter, a Bausch and Lomb DT-11 digitizer, two monitors--one monochrome and one color--and software supplied by the Carrier Corporation, is designed specifically for architects and engineers. The designer uses the digitizer to draw the individual systems of a building (lighting, cooling, heating, plumbing, etc.) in different colors. The various systems can then be superimposed on one another to provide a complete picture of the building.

Being able to see all of the systems together makes it possible for the designer to spot conflicts before installation. Corrections can be made immediately, and a change made on one system or layer is automatically made in the appropriate place on all the others. "This makes installation in the field easier and cheaper."

Like Symphony, the Carrier package allows Baumann to experiment with different designs and choose the best one for his client.

His one criticism of the high tech industry that has changed his business so dramatically is that "it is virtually impossible for the average businessman to get the equipment to work without a great deal of help. "Each time he added a new piece of hardware, work on the project would come to a halt while he and Bill tried to decipher the documentation and figure out why things didn't work as they were supposed to.

"I know that people who set up their own computer systems five years ago had a really hard time," Baumann says, "but it really shouldn't be that way today."