Many companies with tight budgets think they can save money by using Microsoft Excel for engineering calculations rather than adding a math tool to their CAD systems. Excel is a versatile tool,and it is in widespread use. But does that ubiquity make it the best tool for engineering productivity?

Not necessarily. In order to help you find the best math equation software for your organization, we have compared Excel with one of the other leading engineering programs: Mathcad. Here’s how they compare:

Math Equation Software Comparison

Integration with CAD Solutions

Mathcad integrates with the entire range of PTC CAD software, including Creo and Thingworx, and supports modern engineering challenges such as IoT, AR, and robotics. Mathcad can also integrate with Solidworks through an API, giving Mathcad an advantage over Excel, which can claim interoperability, but not true integration. Integration means that two solutions work together as one.

Mathcad provides true integration into the entire Creo product line.


People sometimes assume that integration and interoperability mean the same thing, but they are very different. Interoperability allows a system to work with other products or systems to exchange data. To be interoperable, data stored by one product should be accessible and usable by other products.

For ad hoc usage, interoperability is faster and less expensive than maintaining integrations, but it may require more time and a deeper system and data architecture knowledge than a simpler system integration. The trade-off between integration and interoperability is whether the company wants to pay for interoperability in lost user productivity to decipher the data schema or in IT resources for the creation and maintenance of integrations.

Microsoft Excel provides better interoperability options.

Secure Access and Visibility Control

While its latest iterations offer the ability to control access to Excel files for maintenance or viewing purposes, Excel is fundamentally a single-user application. On the other hand, PTC designed Mathcad as an enterprise application. It integrates into CAD systems, which include secure collaboration portals and robust, detailed security.

Mathcad was designed as an enterprise solution with team collaboration in mind.

Industry Support

There is no doubt that Excel is one of the most flexible pieces of software ever invented. Users in every industry from retail to manufacturing to healthcare, and in every department from finance to sales to production and engineering use Excel.

Mathcad supports a smaller number of industries:

  • Aerospace & Defense
  • Automotive
  • Electronics & High-Tech
  • Life Sciences
  • Manufacturing
  • Oil & Gas
  • Retail & Consumer Products.

This focus allows Mathcad to be the leader at providing the tools these industries need and has the functionality most often required by engineering projects. Excel, on the other hand, may or may not have the necessary functions. If you are in one of the focus industries, Mathcad will save your engineering team time by improving their productivity.

Although Mathcad supports fewer industries than Excel, their focus ensures that Mathcad provides the sophisticated tools these engineers need.

Speed, Usability, and Productivity

There’s an old saying: “A Jack of all trades is master of none.” It means you can be pretty good at lots of things, but if that’s your strategy, you will never be the best at any one thing. Mathcad is the master of engineering calculations. It works the way engineers do, using natural format equations. That makes it fast and simple for engineers to use since there is little to no learning curve. It’s formatting also makes it easy to check formulas and proofs to ensure accuracy.

Excel is easy to use for easy tasks. As tasks get more complex, they get harder to master. Even expert Excel users may resort to support forums and help desks to accomplish needed tasks. It’s harder to find and correct errors when the calculations and formulas are hidden inside cells. In fact, a study by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that 90% of all spreadsheets with more than 150 rows had errors. Olsen and Nilson found that 21% of cells had errors, even among experienced spreadsheet users. Engineers who use spreadsheets for their calculations spend between 15 and 25% of their time manipulating and checking data, yet spreadsheet developers miss 80% of spreadsheet errors. Nearly half had errors that cost the company between $216 thousand and $110 million. You can buy a lot of Mathcad for that kind of money.

Mathcad’s engineering expertise makes it the better choice for users looking to complete complex engineering calculations.

Worksheet Libraries

Both solutions offer a library of free worksheets. Mathcad’s are all engineering focused; Excel’s are for a range of purposes. It’s possible that with time and effort,you might find an Excel worksheet that does some or all of what you need—but you could very likely have completed the activity in Mathcad by the time you do.

Mathcad will have the engineering worksheets you need without having to do a lot of digging.

Free Training and Support

Both solutions have an abundance of free online training, user forums and readily accessible support. However, if you need to talk engineering concepts with your support team, you will do better with Mathcad. Excel support understands Excel, not your industry or engineering principles.

Both solutions offer training and support, but again, if you’re focus is on engineering Mathcad support will be able to better help you with anything you need.


Since Excel is part of Microsoft Office, it’s very likely that your team already has it and uses it for many purposes. So, in that sense, there is no added cost for choosing Excel.

However, if you consider lost productivity and the inefficiencies noted above, you may realize that Mathcad is the less expensive option.

Since most organizations already invest in Microsoft Office, Excel is technically the cheaper option (but that all depends on how much you value employee productivity).

So Who is the Winner? When it Comes to Engineering, it’s Mathcad

There’s no question that Excel is a fine piece of software, but it’s not an engineering tool. Mathcad was purpose-built for engineering calculations. It helps make engineers more efficient and it improves accuracy as well as productivity. And yes, we are one of the leading PTC resellers so we obviously have a bias towards Mathcad but we have tried to be as impartial as possible for this comparison. The fact is, Excel is just not made for these kinds of calculations.

To learn more about how Mathcad can improve your engineering operations, contact us today.

Or for a closer comparison of two engineering-math programs check out our Mathcad vs MATLAB comparison.