Practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free functional industrial-grade software

Jan. 5, 2005
If you know the right places to go, you can grab all sorts of free software available for scheduling, CAD, budgeting, CMMS and more. This article will direct you to numerous destinations on the Internet that can help you reach your goals without spending a penny.

Computer literacy will set you free. The very idea implies that every freedom-loving person needs software. Those harboring delusions of being the quintessential paragon of productivity probably already are using many collections of those prearranged binary digits. The only people who eschew such ubiquitous technology probably have a different agenda, maybe one that’s way out of the mainstream.

Think about it. Name a contemporary viable business that doesn’t rely on digital technology. As an aside, software development is the only business endeavor in which you can build something once and sell it thousands of times. It’s a veritable money machine. Just ask Mr. Gates.

Speaking of money, many commercially available software packages are expensive, the justification being the buyer’s perception of a genuine ROI. Users are paying for value that produces labor savings. One way to get the software you need is by getting your wants into someone else’s budget. What is one to do when there’s no easy access to the coffers? Your need for software isn’t likely to vanish, that’s for sure, whereas the money is unlikely to appear.

It’s pretty well accepted that you can’t smuggle company software offsite to load it on the computer in your cousin’s bait shop. Nevertheless, many side businesses, social clubs and other entities can use the same software packages used in the plant. When budgets, either personal or business, are a bit anemic, freeware can serve as a stopgap measure that keeps productivity trends moving in the correct general direction. That’s why I’m inviting you to join me for another dive into the morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free functional industrial-grade software. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

We might as well begin with the obvious, something near and dear to the heart and pocketbook of every plant professional. The computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) has been around for decades and keeps getting better. Yep, free versions are available, but keep in mind that their capabilities aren’t as grand as their commercial cousins.

If you can write code, you might be interested in an open-source CMMS package that can be modified to achieve a fit that closely matches the realities in your plant. On its Web site, www.cworks.com.my/ [no hyphens], a Malaysian company, CWorks Systems Sdn. Bhd., offers free downloads of it entry-level package, CWorks Free.

Then there is SourceForge.net, which offers free hosting to open source software development projects. The company is owned by OSTG Inc., Fremont, Calif., a wholly owned subsidiary of VA Software Corp. It gets so confusing. No wonder the dot-com house of cards collapsed, but I digress.

SourceForge.net, too, allows you to download a free copy of something called “Free CMMS,” which you will find at http://sourceforge.net/projects/free-cmms/ [hyphens after free]. If you scroll down that page and click on “Project Home Page,” you can try the software online before you download it.

Finally, Business Industrial Network, St. Louis, has an online CMMS ROI calculator at www.bin95.com/cmms-roi-calculator.htm [hyphens either side of roi].

Scarcest resource
Budgeting is one of the more significant tasks that managers face in a highly competitive economy. Even under once-a-year best of circumstances, establishing and tracking the forecast can be a real headache. But, as someone once said, help is on the way.

With the popularity of palm computers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that free budgeting software is available for those devices. In this case, you go to www.pilotzone.com [no hyphens], the site owned by Toronto-based Tucows (Deleware) Inc., and click on “Mobile/PDA.” Then, click on the name of your brand of palm unit. From there, find the links to the budgeting packages and focus on the freeware.

If charity begins at home, you might be interested in a budgeting package called “IngenMoney Pro.” It’s free, but can be used only for personal use. The software license has a term of only year and must be renewed online annually. You see, the developer, Daniel Lavigne of Woodlawn, Ontario, wants to keep in touch with users, get feedback and offer upgrades and new releases. So, point your mouse at www.ingenlab.com/igmoney.html [no hyphens] and get the goods.

A matter of timing
Plan your work. Work your plan. That’s the traditional advice for completing any project. If a project involves more than 30 or so activities, being serious about making it successful may require a computerized schedule. Fortunately, there are several free scheduling packages that you might want to investigate.

The first, “GanttPV,” is available from Brian C. Christensen at www.pureviolet.net/ganttpv/ [no hyphens]. It’s open source software and, according to the site, customization is best done using the Python scripting language. Follow the links to the tutorials that get you past this hurdle. Go to the site and click on “guided tour” to learn how the software functions.

“OpenSched: Automated Project Scheduling” is another scheduling package by M-Tech Information Technology Inc. in Calgary, Alberta. The program runs on the Linux operating system and its use depends on being able to produce a proper description file, a sample of which is provided. You can find the details at http://mtechit.com/download/sched/ [no hyphens].

Another full-featured management package is called “jxProject” and is available from jxProject Co. in Silicon Valley, Calif. Its features are too numerous to mention here. This is professional-grade software, but the downside is that you’ll need to install the latest Java Runtime Environment from Sun Microsystems on every computer that will be running it. Cruise over to www.jxproject.com [no hyphens], where you’ll see the details of this magnum opus.

Drawing it out
Engineers are visual people. They communicate best using sketches, charts, graphs and blueprints. In most design departments, though, you’ll probably be hard pressed to find a single drafting pencil, straightedge or triangle. Everything of this sort is now done digitally using computer-aided design software, of which several free versions exist. Shoot little ol’ mousie to http://freeware.intrastar.net/cadsoftware.htm [no hyphens] to find “CAD and 3-D - Free Software,” a page where Alan Sawicki maintains a listing of freeware for 2-D and 3-D design and ray tracing, as well as calculating stress and deflection in structural beams and shafts. One entry, “CadStd Lite,” is a free, general-purpose 2-D CAD/drafting program published by Apperson & Daughters, Newbury Park, Calif. It uses ANSI drawing standards and offers accuracy to 1 mil. Of course, the purchased version has greater abilities, but if you need drawings only periodically, you’ll probably find this is perfectly adequate software.

No matter where you search on the Web, you’re going to find an increasing number of PDF documents, many with an adjacent link to a free PDF reader download. But, if you haven’t noticed, the reader is useless for generating the PDFs. If you believe there also should be free software for that purpose, you’ll be glad to know that Eric Walczak offers a suite of three packages for publishing your own PDF documents. All you need do is mouse over to www.pdf995.com [no hyphens] and begin downloading.

Steam tables and more
No, we’re not talking about stainless steel hardware for a hot buffet line. The steam tables are a grand tabulation of the highly nonlinear physical and thermodynamic properties of water over a range of pressures and temperatures. Using the next two resources requires that you remember how to manipulate files using DOS. First, dispatch your mouse to www.winsim.com/steam/steam.html [no hyphens] to access Michael Lynn McGuire’s calcsoft.zip, a set of four DOS programs focused on the ASME 1967 steam tables. For more, visit www.atkinsopht.com/eng/engrpage.htm [no hyphens] for a program called “Streamlines,” offered by Atkinsopht, Weston, Mass. This program models the steady-state flow of homogeneous Newtonian fluids in pipes, ducts, loops, trees and networks.

More techie stuff
The good folks at Elite Software in College Station, Texas, will allow you to download free evaluation versions of more than 30 of the company’s HVAC, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection software packages. Many, such as waste drainage pipe sizing and multiphased life-cycle cost analysis, are certain to find some utility in the plant environment. This software is free because it is crippled in some way and limited in what it can do. Some won’t allow printing the results, some HVAC packages handle only three, small rooms and some electrical packages handle only one circuit at a time. Some use a DOS platform. But, for free, you might as well take it. A desk rodent burrowing its way to “Software downloads” at www.elitesoft.com/web/homepage/elite_demo_list.html [no hyphens] will find the goodies quite easily.

And, as a parting shot, you can obtain a copy of AIRMaster+, a software program that analyzes compressor and compressor system efficiency. This package was developed by the Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy via the Office of Industrial Technologies' Best Practices Program. Go to http://mm3.energy.wsu.edu/amplus/default.stm [no hyphens] to reap the results of your tax money at work.

Let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in this column. Send your comments, suggestions and ideas to [email protected].