Optical Solutions Manages Calculations with Mathcad
Will light streams and tiny fibers deliver the future of home entertainment and Internet? They will if Optical Solutions has its way. Optical Solutions designs and manufactures optical access systems that enable local service providers to offer a wide range of integrated voice, video and high-speed data services to residences, multi-tenant dwellings and small-to-medium-sized businesses.
Headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., Optical Solutions' 100-plus employees are leading the fiber-to-the-community revolution with the company's patented FiberPath® system for delivery of broadband converged services: voice, high-definition video and high-speed data. With thousands of units in service throughout the United States and Canada, Optical Solutions is the only supplier with field-deployed installations generating revenue and profits for service providers today.
As the director of hardware development, Mark Biegert plays a key role in developing Optical Solutions' high-volume, low-cost consumer products for the telecommunications market. Managing a department that is primarily composed of electrical engineers and optical physicists, Biegert sets up processes and procedures for his hardware development team and also performs the system engineering for the group, setting requirements. One of the primary challenges that Biegert has encountered in his position relates to the need to communicate technical documents in a uniform way among the company's technical and non-technical employees and customers.
"When I came here, we didn't have a standard tool for technical communications," Biegert recalled. "I needed something that everyone could use as a common tool and that people could learn quickly. We needed standard ways that we could perform our computations and share them with each other."
To resolve this problem, Biegert turned to Mathcad, PTC's applied mathematics package that is currently used by over 1.5 million engineers worldwide. Mathcad was the ideal solution for Optical Solutions because the software allows the company's engineers to easily perform complex computations through a simple interface that displays calculations as they would appear on a written page. One frequently performed task relates to component specification for photo diodes or lasers. Biegert says that there may be ten functions that engineers must specify for a given component to perform. Mathcad's real-math notation and self-documenting nature enables the engineers to see all of their computations and quickly generate reports that document all of the steps they performed to reach a given solution.
Once an engineer has specified the routines for a standard component in Mathcad, Biegert can then release a PDF version to Optical Solutions' documentation system and an html version built into a standardized company template for the company web site. The result is an archived document that can be used by a variety of different constituents throughout the company, from other engineers, to purchasing, to customer service.
"Recently, I received a call from our customer service department about a customer who was having a deployment-related issue," said Biegert. "I was able to generate a new customized worksheet based on previous work that I had completed and archived, so it just took minutes. That's a real advantage because we have often to modify computations slightly. I converted the new file to a .pdf document and emailed it to him and he got what he needed fast. In the event that customer service gets another call with a similar problem, they can pull up that worksheet online and they have documentation that they can see."
Biegert finds that the value of Mathcad is that it creates an immediate record of exactly how every step in a design is completed to reach a solution. "Our engineers can work efficiently on designs, adapt and reuse relevant worksheets that they have archived, and share a record of their work all the way down the line."
PTC believes that organizations can dramatically increase their efficiency by using Mathcad for Calculation Management—to capture, manage and share engineering knowledge and data. Clearly Optical Solutions agrees. They already use Mathcad to clearly document all their calculations, they collect worksheets in repositories for easy reference and reuse by others, and they use Mathcad's real math format to share their technical documents with others, whether they are down the hall or around the world.
“It's a big deal. Mathcad provides me a standardized way to communicate. We have manufacturing in Mexico and key vendors in China. We're doing a field trial in Korea. We need to be able to share documents that all these people will understand. The one language that's universal is math,” Biegert concludes.
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