As a naval architect and marine engineer I have slowly drifted into a bizarre conundrum that actually may be an industry wide problem that is ripe for an industry wide solution.
What I am talking about is a loss of all those really great NAME engineering computer programs that were developed in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Yes, today we have much fancier NAME computer packages that are heavily integrated, but, in actual fact, they only serve a small market and have completely left out those engineers and designers (and hobbyists, and university students and even high schoolers) who do not sit in front of a particular computer design package all day, but who do want to get a relatively fast answer to a particular problem.
In my life that can be a hydrostatics calculation one day, a Savitsky style planing hull calculation the next day, and quick strip method ship motion calculation the next. But on a personal level I only do maybe 3 of those a year.
15 years ago I could purchase any of those programs for under $1,000, but even more importantly, the learning curve to actually use the program was small. Today, I cannot find any of those programs at a cost that simply does what I want them to do: Calculate! Instead they provide all type of bells and whistles, and GUI’s, and CAM interfaces that are useful to a designer or engineer that is constantly working the subject, but to someone like me are just nuisances.
Today, I first have to search which CAD package providers provide a certain add-on, purchase a CAD software license, delve into the mother CAD program and then purchase the program add-on that I am interested in and hope that nobody has messed up the coding along the way.
Call me old, call me a luddite, call me a pinhead, call me cheap, but I just don’t see how this is serving our profession.
No matter how you look at it, buying CAD program add-ons is not the way to develop capable professionals. Everyone needs to walk before they run, and true engineering knowledge does not develop from running slick NAME computer programs, it develops from walking (or, rather, crawling with bleeding knees) through these classic NAME programs. All these NAME programs provide very valuable outputs, but they can sure bite you in the tail if you do not know what you are doing, and the more rudimentary versions (with often amazingly complete technical documentation) are just more useful at explaining those complexities.
As such, I would like to propose that my Technical Society, SNAME, start an effort to husband all those old beautiful programming efforts that look dead, but are actually the backbone of our combined NAME knowledge. I am asking SNAME to develop a method to make them available to its members, students and the community at large in a rugged and perpetual fashion. I am not talking about eliminating or by-passing the CAD providers, what I am talking about is providing a mechanism where occasional users can stay involved, where students can learn from the basics and where heavier users can obtain the knowledge to comfortably move into the more efficiently performing full time seats when needed.