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Trigonometry made easy, Part 1: how to overcome your trig anxiety.

Trigonometry--one of those multi-syllable math words, like algebra, calculus and statistics. These words strike fear in hearts of many people.

Fear not! Trig is used every day in the manufacturing environment, helping us calculate part dimensions. On the shopfloor, the ability to work simple trig problems is a strong advantage when fixing things in a hurry.

Everyone knows "experts." They look at a problem, then disappear to find a computer software package to solve it. Nothing against the computer, but trig can be mastered with a good old calculator and it is easy for us to learn how.

By breaking down the process into steps, trig becomes a useful and easy tool to use.

Step #1: Draw a 90-degree triangle. This step is often the most difficult.

Step #2: Label two sides of the triangle, the known side and the needed side.

Step #3: Select the correct trig rule.

Step #4: Calculate the unknown. Let's review each step in solving a trig problem.

Step #1: Drawing the triangle.

How do you draw the triangle? This step requires the vision to see where the triangle is on the part.

Trig is often used regularly on turned parts to calculate unknown dimensions. The print does not arrive with the triangle drawn on it. We have to find the triangle. To find the triangle, always try to read the angle from the horizontal plane. This method helps me when I get confused (which is often) about how the print angles should be read.

There are many instances of angles being read incorrectly be the engineer, the machinist, and then the inspector. When an angle is read incorrectly, there is always one person who will take any and every part we make incorrectly--the scrap dealer. Every one of us keeps the scrap guy in business!

Take a look at this part. The angle as measured from the horizontal is unknown. Trig can be used to calculate this angle. The first step is to draw the right triangle.

Step #2: Labeling two sides of the triangle.

Now that we can see the triangle, label the sides and the angles. The 90-degree angle is the right angle and is marked with a square. The angle we wish to calculate is shaded. The third angle is also unknown, but we do not need to calculate this angle, so it is left unmarked.

There are three sides and three terms that can be applied. The longest side is always the hypotenuse (must be a Greek word; sounds Greek to me). This is always the longest side.

The next label is "adjacent." This label is applied to the side that is closest to the angle we are calculating. Remember this label with the AA Rule: The angle and the adjacent side always go together. That's the AA Rule.

The third term is "opposite" This label is applied to the side that is opposite the angle we are calculating.

These three terms opposite, adjacent, and hypotenuse represent the lengths of the three sides. When the length values or angle values are substituted in the trig formulas, we can calculate the specified unknown.

There are three trig formulas we will use, sine rule, cosine rule, and tangent rule. Next month, we will review each in detail and talk about selecting the correct trig rule based on the labeling of the triangle.

Even though we have discussed three sides, we recommend labeling only two sides (the known and the needed). It is then easy to select the correct trig rule and solve the problem.

At Rose Training Systems, I've created a simple "cheat-sheet" which lists the three main trig rules and their variations. Using this guide helps to set up the problem and solve the equation. The cheat-sheet is available on our web site at Download the cheat-sheet and check back next month for more steps in solving trig problems.

Steve Rose is a professional trainer and president of RTSI, Solon, OH. Rosaleen Rose offers Internet website development. They can be reached by phone, 440.542.3066; e-mail; or on the web at
COPYRIGHT 2005 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:shop talk
Author:Rose, Steve
Publication:Tooling & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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