Software Usage Guidelines 

By on

Using software in our  work is essential for most of us and we are becoming even more dependant on it's use.  While software is a great asset, many times using it can be more problematic than the problem it is trying to solve.  To maximise the benefit of using software I have been trying to think of five general guidelines.  This is my list: 

Know what you want to do

Sounds obvious, but quite often people get side tracked in using all the software functions or trying to use the incorrect software.  For example if you have an all singing all dancing software which can fully design all aspects of an electrical system, but you only need to size a single cable then the software may not be suitable. The software may require lots of time inputting masses of  data which  may or may not be available and is probably not relevant to the sizing of a cable.  In this instance you would need to limit your use of the software or maybe use different software or a even consider a hand calculation. 

Garbage in garbage out

An old saying, but very true.  The output and answers from software are dependant on the data given to it.  If you provide incorrect data or make mistakes inputting information then the output will be incorrect.   When inputting data it is essential to spend time ensuring that the input into each step is correct and accurate.

List assumptions

Rarely is all the information necessarily available at the time required.  Often assumptions or side calculations are made to obtain the necessary input data for software.   These assumptions (side calculations) should be documented.  During review/checking or modifying of the software at some future date, it will be necessary to know what are the assumptions and where then come from. 

Verify and check

Verify or reality check the, output of software.  Mistakes in input data and software bugs mean that errors can appear in the output.  In in the above cable example, you should have a rough idea of the likely size ranges, what length of cable will start giving voltage drop problems, etc.  If the software is producing answers in line with these expectations they you can be confident that things are going well.  Another useful exercise is to consistently check output at each stage of data input to ensure that errors are found early and corrected early.  It is easier to correct errors as they occur, rather than at the end of the software input exercise.

Software is a tool

This ties all the above together.  Software is a tool to use in the same way calculators, scale rulers, tracing paper, telephones, etc. are.  Tools are not the problem solving intelligence - the human using the tool is the brains behind the operation.  If the answers are wrong it's not realistic to put the blame  software.  If the wrong software has been selected, it is used incorrectly, the input data is bad and or no checks on the output have been carried out then it is probably the users problem, not the software.

To varying extents I try to follow the above guidelines.  When I do I am reasonably successful.  On the odd occasion where I haven't followed my own guidelines things have not run quite so smoothly. 

 



Steven McFadyen's avatar Steven McFadyen

Steven has over twenty five years experience working on some of the largest construction projects. He has a deep technical understanding of electrical engineering and is keen to share this knowledge. About the author

myElectrical Engineering

comments powered by Disqus



A mechanical engineering paper, some history and memories

I was digging in my bookshelf and came across the 80th Anniversary Association of Mine Resident Engineers, Papers and Discussions Commemorative Edition...

Questions - Reputation and Privilege

Our question and answer system while letting you do exactly what it says, is much more.  It is a dynamic user driven system, where our users not only ask...

1,000 kV UHV First for China

At the beginning of the year China put the world's first 1,000 kV UHV transmission system into operation. Transmitting power at over a million volts is...

Bows and Arrows

It starts with me reading one of the Horrible History books with my son (Groovy Greeks). Arrows were mentioned which lead to the discussion of the bodkin...

Voltage Levels to IEC 60038

The standard aims to consolidate AC and traction voltages within the industry and defines the following bands: band 1 - A.C. systems 100 V to 1...

Fire Resistant and Fire Retardant Cables

Fire resistant and fire retardant cable sheaths are design to resist combustion and limit the propagation of flames. Low smokes cables have a sheath designed...

DC Component of Asymmetrical Faults

The image (reproduced from IEC 60909) shows a typical fault in an ac system.  From the illustration it can seen that there is an initial dc component ...

Differential protection, the good old days

This morning I was explaining how differential protection works to a junior engineer. To give him something to read I opened up the NPAG (Network Protection...

Understanding electric motor insulation & temperature

Anyone specifying or using electric motors should have a basic understanding how the insulation is related to temperature. Three classes of insulation...

Understanding Circuit Breaker Markings

IEC 60947 is the circuit breaker standard and covers the marking of breakers in detail. Any manufacturer following this standard should comply with the...

Have some knowledge to share

If you have some expert knowledge or experience, why not consider sharing this with our community.  

By writing an electrical note, you will be educating our users and at the same time promoting your expertise within the engineering community.

To get started and understand our policy, you can read our How to Write an Electrical Note