Sunday, January 31, 2010

Number Business

Like any normal business, we work with numbers here in Amici Water Systems.  Sales agents compute discounts and totals for each of their sales; the collector or cashier computes change for the customers; sales supervisors add up her group's sales for the quarter and their expenses; HR handles the intricate payroll in a very complicated spreadsheet in; marketing does forecasts for her latest marketing project; service and project managers work with limited sets of resources and time to prepare service estimates and project schedules; managers and accountants look at financial statements.

Unlike a lot of businesses however, our major products are heavily about numbers.  When we size water heaters for your home, swimming pool, or a hotel, we may need basic numbers like the number and flow capacities of showers, the number of bathtubs, the dimension of your pool and the ambient temperature of water and atmosphere, or the number of rooms in a hotel or occupancy rate during peak hours for water heating.  The number of solar panels needed, the output capacity of heat pump water heaters, the storage capacity of hot water tanks form a system to provide enough hot water at a desired temperature for however your business uses hot water.  Pumps and tanks are sized according to required volume and pressure as well as horizontal and vertical distances between water source and installation site.  The appropriate models of swimming pool pumps and filters for your swimming pool depend on the volume of your swimming pool as well as its usage.  Our products are technical.  They are a number business.

Due to the nature of our business, it is important for our people to know their math, and do it well.  Though our various product trainings cover to a degree specific product physics informally, there is so much room for improvement in our technical training program.  Formalization of the program, including gradation and tests, will be helpful in the long run in educating our people.

Arming our people with efficient tools are just as important.  While the old-fashioned basic calculator is still the preferred equipment of many, due to its convenience and portability, the versatile spreadsheet and other computer programs are available for more advanced computations.  Our product catalog has a few pages devoted to conversion tables.  We have a compilation of spreadsheet/form templates for various common calculations in our day to day business to speed response time.  At one point, I've even written a small unit conversion tool to help convert basic units of measurement we use in our company.  Nowadays, with internet access being almost a given, Google's built in calculator has been a boon to quick and easy calculations.

My personal favorite calculator, however, is Qalculate.  Unfortunately for Windows and Mac users, it is only available under Linux.  (Fortunately for our company, we use Ubuntu, a fairly easy-to-use Linux distribution, in which installing Qalculate is just a search and a few clicks away.)  Qalculate not only features a robust scientific mode but also unit conversions, currency conversions, and even calculus.  As an example of its power, you can enter 6 kilowatt hour to Btu and it gives you 20.472747 kBtu.  Computing the desired gpm pump requirement for a residential swimming pool 10 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 5 feet deep is simply entering the following expression:

10 meters * 6 meters * 5 feet / 8 hours to gal/min

It gives an answer ~ 50.324776 gal / min.

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