Do Engineers Use Excel? Absolutely! 5 Things to Know

Do engineers use Excel? Of course! Engineers use a lot of data and equations. So, Excel is the perfect tool to manage and crunch numbers.

I use Excel all the time myself. It has simplified my engineering work.

I can do just about everything with Excel. I understand it’s not always the best solution.

But, it’s a program I can depend on. So, let’s discuss why engineers love Excel.

#1 Familiarity with Excel’s user interface and commands

Everyone I know has a very deep familiarity with Excel. Microsoft released Excel back in 1985.

Thus, most Engineers today grew up with Excel. In the 1990s as a kid, I remember playing around with Excel.

I would create tables and graphs and do basic math without any lessons.

Engineers typically have very curious minds, even as kids. So, Excel was a great outlet to express yourself. Especially as computers were becoming popular.

Plus, I found Excel on almost every computer I came across. It became my favorite computer program, alongside the game ‘Oregon Trail’ of course.

Then later in high school, I used Excel in all my math and science classes.

To top it off, Excel hasn’t changed much over the years. The base functionality and user interface is still there.

#2 Intuitive and easy to use

The interface is super simple and intuitive. Especially if you grew up using the program.

This is important because it’s one less thing you need to worry about as a busy engineer.

I find the simplicity comes from the functions broken into simple parts. Then, everything is clearly labeled.

Also, it’s very easy to learn new things in Excel. Give it a weekend or two, and you can become decent with any of the different Excel tasks.

Plus, the learning curve for the more advanced tasks isn’t too difficult to learn. For example, learning about the following:

  • Addins
  • Advanced charts
  • Finding data from lookup tables, by using such functions as VLOOKUP
  • Creating user-defined functions
  • Summarizing, sorting, and reorganizing data by using pivot tables
  • Filtering and sorting data

In short, the more you use Excel the easier it gets. It’s not like some programs that are always a drag to use.

#3 Excel gives you a lot of flexibility to do what you like

excel low voltage motor loads calculation

You can do so much with Excel. That’s why I view most software companies as glorified Excel spreadsheets. Especially apps that just process data.

This is especially the case when a visual interface isn’t needed. At the end of the day, most data-crunching apps are only a series of equations and algorithms.

For this reason, all types of engineers love Excel. In engineering, we just want to crunch our numbers. We don’t care if the output looks pretty or not.

On that note, here’s how I use Excel in my engineering work:

Computations

A lot of basic engineering calculations I’ve hacked together in Excel myself. It doesn’t look pretty in Excel, but it gets the job done.

For example, I’ve set up formulas for electric loads calculations. Also, for automatically sizing breakers and wire sizes for low voltage panels.

For more complex calculations, I use purchased software to process all interdependent variables. Or even, I use the software we’ve written ourselves here at EngineerCalcs:

Important Note: never blindly rely on your Excel calculations. Or any software for that matter.

I always do a reality check over my outputs. I ask myself if my outputted figures make sense or not?

I’ll even crank out hand calculations on random figures. This way, I can catch any errors. Maybe I accidentally changed a backend Excel equation in my spreadsheet somehow. It happens.  

Database

Excel used as a basic database, works great from my experience.

The key is to use small data sets. Once your workbook gets too big, Excel starts to work too slow. Plus, the documenting process suffers.

So, I suggest using a more robust software at that point. It’ll make crunching your large volumes of data easier.

That said, I store all types of equipment information organized to my liking in Excel. For example:

  • Different types of electrical equipment and their ratings
  • Personal notes on equipment limitations
  • My own technical notes on different subjects

A lot of times, the information I receive from vendors comes in Excel spreadsheets. Also, data from large utilities comes organized in spreadsheets.

So, becoming familiar with spreadsheets is very helpful. Especially when you’re dealing with more traditional engineering fields. More than likely they still use Excel for most things.

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) editor

If you’re willing to learn VBA, you can do so much in Excel. VBA is a simple programming language of Excel.

It might seem insane to use it for some complex problems.

But, it surprisingly works great. There’s not much you can’t do with it.

This includes doing many different engineering calculations. And then you can present everything fairly nicely too.

For example, I’ve written code to check high voltage equipment test data. My program analyzed thousands of lines of data spotting different issues.

For this reason, I would’ve preferred colleges taught Excel and VBA instead of MATLAB. Or at the very least, taught both together.

I don’t know many who use MATLAB in the private industry. Maybe those who use it don’t broadcast it to the world.

But, this reaffirms how out of touch schools are with the real world. I believe an engineer with amazing Excel skills would be more valuable to an employer.

That said, if you can use MATLAB, you can probably easily teach yourself Excel and VBA. Regardless, don’t dismiss Excel. You’ll only benefit by learning how to properly use it.

Creating simulations

Excel allows you to create amazing simulations.

In-circuit design, you’re given a list of formulas. These formulas help you specify certain device ratings. For example, calculating the following device ratings:

  • Capacitors
  • Inductors
  • Resistors
  • Power ratings

In short, you can create worksheets with your formulas and device ratings included. Then you can adjust variables to see how your device ratings change.

I find this works better than most paid software tools.

#4 Free large online communities

Excel has probably one of the largest online communities. You can find just about everything you want to know online.

On Reddit and Youtube alone there’s endless content. Then, you can venture into the countless Excel dedicated forums.

So, it’s a no-brainer to use Excel. You have access to endless free content and very helpful people. Not once have I not found what I was searching for.

This alone is a great reason to try to make your own complex programs using Excel and VBA. Even better, people online freely share their created Excel sheets and code with you. A win-win!

Paid software

I understand the limitations of Excel. I’ve heard the whispers that you’re not a great engineer if you use Excel for complex problems. I get it.

But also, every advanced software you buy isn’t created equal. I use a lot of advanced expensive software myself, for engineering work.

I find all types of limitations in these programs. Plus, they even have errors in the computation.

Keep in mind, a lot of software is a string of equations and algorithms. So, why not recreate what you want when the existing programs aren’t good enough?

I do just that in Excel. This way I have complete control over the computation. This allows me to:

  • Extend the scope of a calculation
  • Add more variables to a calculation
  • More deeply investigate calculated values as I have access to the code

To make matters worse, a lot of advanced software lacks online forums. Plus, the software developers aren’t any help. I need to pay $5,000 per year extra to receive any type of support.

#5 Everyone uses Excel

excel arc flash data management

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use Excel. Not one person.

Every large engineering organization I’ve worked with uses Excel. They use it fairly extensively too.

Even more, all non-engineers use Excel. So you can easily share your files with them as well.

Everyone’s familiarity with Excel eliminates learning curves. While reducing the overhead of explaining things over and over again.

This is a huge benefit when sharing Excel files. It creates a seamless and simple collaboration environment for teamwork.

“Do Engineers Use Excel?” wrap up

Most engineers love Excel. Becoming familiar with it is a great way to automate a lot of your work.

And yes, I know Excel has limitations. It’s not the end all be all tool.

But, Excel was never meant to be able to do everything at a high level. Frankly, what program can?

If things become too complex, there are many other custom options. Like Python or MATLAB. So far though, I’ve been able to squeeze every last bit of juice out of Excel.

Excel and VBA are hands down one of the most powerful tools. And overall, Excel is my favorite program tool.

What’s your experience with Excel? How often do you use Excel?

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