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Engineering Practice: Functions for Easier Curve Fitting

By Francis X. McConville Impact Technology Consultants |

Engineers often need to fit experimental data to an empirical relationship for extrapolation or modeling without resorting to a full mathematical treatment based on physical principles or theory. The most widely used platform in science for doing this is MS Excel, and while its "off-the-shelf" Trendline tool is useful, it is limited to only 4 or 5 simple functions. Excel’s Solver add-in, on the other hand, offers a simple, powerful means to fit data to user-defined functions. There are numerous commercial packages for data fitting and statistical analysis [ 1], but Excel is ubiquitous, and as E. G. John [2] aptly puts it, the use of Solver for data fitting is "simplicity itself". More recently, in this publication, Du Plessis [3] further extols the virtues of Excel’s Solver function and describes in detail how to use it for this purpose. For a synopsis, see box below. Once one has identified an appropriate function and achieved a good fit, then more-advanced modeling tasks become easier; and using calculus one can obtain derivatives and integrals and thus rates of change, areas under curves, and so on. But selecting the best function for the curve-fitting exercise is never trivial. To simplify the task,…
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