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The Hidden Cost of Using Spreadsheets in Engineering

While Excel is a staple in the engineering community, it has slowly become outdated and costly compared to modern solutions. By looking at the real-life applications of this method, it is easy to discover the true costs associated with relying on spreadsheets for engineering calculations.

Engineers use their own Excel spreadsheets because businesses usually rely on Microsoft Office for their day-to-day workflows. Even if this system wasn’t perfect, they were concerned about the cost of PIPE-FLO a Revalize brand or a similar modeling and simulation application for fluid piping systems.

However, the reality is that every process has a cost. To understand what method is most valuable for your business, it is key to identify the total cost of your workflows.

Top engineering processes with hidden spreadsheet costs

By diving into the top spreadsheet uses, your team can identify the hidden costs of these workflows and discover why investing in a smarter software solution provides a higher value.


It’s vital to understand that Excel is a programming language — a notation system used in designing computer programs. If used for production work, it becomes an application. When creating applications, the developer needs to know which calculations they are performing. They must also identify the source of the required input data, intermediate calculations, and how the final results are used by others.
During the development process, there are a few key points where your team may accidentally incur costs by using manual spreadsheets:
EPC contracts
For an engineering, procurement, and construction contract (EPC), the cost of developing a spreadsheet is directly billed to the customer — resulting in a source of revenue. If an owner develops a spreadsheet, this results in a direct cost to them.
Working with varying units of measurement
While engineering schools teach metric values, many industries use standard U.S. units. However, data entry units vary based on what customary engineering units are in use, which leads to potential confusion for engineers.
Inputting values from external sources
Several input values for your spreadsheetare entered from standards or external sources. For example, the inside pipe diameter is afunction of the pipe material, wall thickness or schedule, and customer preferences. An incorrect value of inside diameter has a major impact on the calculated results.
Intermediate calculations
Many intermediate results are calculated separately —affecting the final results. Engineers must follow the calculations to ensure the integrity of the final results, which is significantly more difficult with manual spreadsheets.
If the calculated results typically fall within industry values, the spreadsheet should recognize when the results fall outside typical norms. However, spreadsheets are not designed to recognize outliers in all cases.
Documentation of workflows
The calculations should be documented in a standardized report. Spreadsheets are often kept in information silos, making it difficult to replicate and understand development processes.

Allowing your team to spend months developing their own system of spreadsheets is likely costing them time and costing you money. Modeling and simulation programs like PIPE-FLO are designed to handle design files, engineering data tables, and meet customer requirements — all in one centralized location.


If your team uses a single spreadsheet application in their production process, new employees must be trained in its use. Beyond the spreadsheet itself, new employees must also understand the data flow, source of the input data, and the terminology in the application. This means new users need to learn about industry norms to determine if their calculations make sense.

Since all this information is likely in an information silo shared by only a few team members, you will need to dedicate time and resources away from other projects to educate your new employees. The lack of outside resources also results in slower acceptance of and confidence with your in-house application.


The developer of your in-house Excel application is typically the primary source of technical support for new and existing users. Since the developer is usually an experienced engineer with company insights, this is an expensive use of a valued resource. As the user base increases, the developer is often asked to add new features to the existing application. This often results in feature creep, which increases all the costs associated with the application.

Version control

Since Excel is an easy-to-use and well-known application, it is easier to understand how to modify the internal workings of a spreadsheet. This leads to a risk of version control issues.

If someone has a new idea or a shortcut in performing the calculations, making an internal workings change without consulting other users leads to roadblocks, internal conflict, and costly errors. Someone in a specific office typically develops Excel applications. So, if the application is deployed to many offices, version control becomes increasingly important and difficult to manage.

Review and approval

When using spreadsheets, it is common practice for each calculation to be reviewed and approved by another engineer.

Senior engineers often conduct the reviews and are aware of the potential calculation pitfalls and shortcomings.

A common concern is when results are out of the expected ranges, which is caused by entering a user input in the wrong units. This review process takes your top employees away from more complex tasks. It also potentially reveals issues far into your development that cost your team and restarts the calculation process.

Design control

Another cause for concern is using a piece of equipment not approved in the client’s specification documents. For example, the allowable pipe sizes, schedules, valves, and fittings are specified in the client’s defined pipe class. Entering data for non-approved equipment will affect the calculated results. Since the results are often used in sequential calculations during the design process, it is important to determine if the results accurately reflect the expected design.

Using the calculated results

Many of the results performed by the Excel application are used in subsequent design tasks. This goes for design values entered in the previous design tasks as well. If the next calculation in the process is made with another Excel application, the data is typically re-entered into the new spreadsheet.

However, if the subsequent design task is performed using a computer modeling and analysis (CMA) application, the existing design information must be entered into the new application. Re-entering data increases the possibility of errors involved with converting to new units or transcription.

Lack of a total picture

Performing calculations in multiple Excel applications also does not easily present a clear and total picture of how all the items work together as a system. Using PIPE-FLO, a Revalize brand, as a CMA application offers the opportunity to centralize results for the entire system — creating a comprehensive picture of how these results connect.

Eliminate hidden spreadsheet costs with PIPE-FLO

Although Excel is a staple of the engineering industry, modern solutions reduce or eliminate the costs associated with this outdated system. CMA applications like PIPE-FLO offer engineers the ability to visualize, centralize, and analyze their calculations with more accuracy and speed than ever before.

Don’t let your engineers use tools that cost you more. Schedule a demo and discover how PIPE-FLO improves your workflow while cutting out the hidden costs of spreadsheets.

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