The more tools you have as an engineer, the more successful you’ll be. I’m going to go over a list of the 22 most useful tools for engineers.
Some of these tools you can use in the office and others are for fieldwork only. But, all types of engineers can use these tools. In fact, I use each of these tools myself as a working engineer.
These days, we all have a powerful camera on our smartphones. And this will do just fine not only for photos but for video capture. Because when you go into the field, you always want to take A LOT of photos and videos to do the following:
- Complete designs without missing any real-world details
- Keep a record for future problems and wrongful accusations
- Troubleshoot problems
As an example, it’s not uncommon for people to try to screw you over in projects. One time, I had someone tell me, “I was never there. How did you discuss this problem with me?” Thankfully, I had snapped a photo of everyone in the meeting, so this guy couldn’t weasel himself out.
And when it comes to troubleshooting, look at NASA rocket launches. They place cameras at every angle to capture their launches. This helps resolve any problems and allows for better rocket optimization. Say a video shows rocket nozzle rattles more than you’d want.
2. Microsoft Excel
I use Excel endlessly. I even wrote an article about why Excel is so awesome for engineers. The following are some of my personal use cases for Excel:
- Organize collected data and equipment information
- Write programs to solve unique engineering problems
- Manage and analyze data to look for patterns and trends
- Manage project budgets and schedules
So, learn as much as you possibly can about Excel. Because you’ll be using it A LOT!
3. LED flashlight
Purchase a trustworthy, durable, and high-powered rechargeable flashlight. Also, smaller is better as long as you don’t compromise on the power output.
I crawl into many dark corners to inspect various things. So, a powerful small flashlight is always handy. But again, be sure it’s durable as I’ve dropped my flashlight many times.
4. A second monitor
One monitor simply won’t cut it to maximize productivity. You need 2 or 3 widescreen monitors. I personally work with two 32-inch monitors and this makes me so much more efficient.
This is especially important if you’re always multitasking. Because having to switch between tabs wastes a lot of time. Plus, for design work, it makes work so much easier. Between my two monitors, I keep the following open as I design:
- CAD software
- Product specifications
- Design parameters
5. Architectural scale ruler
I always have an architectural scale ruler sitting at the corner of my desk. Because design drawings come to you in all dimensions. And having a scale ruler helps you quickly dimension drawing elements.
Also, I find clear rulers to be very helpful. Being able to see what’s under your ruler surprisingly comes in handy when you design by hand.
These days, almost everyone has a smartphone. We use our smartphones for just about everything. And if you don’t own one, and you’re an engineer, go get one!
The following are some of my use cases for my smartphone:
- Taking photos and capturing videos
- Using photogrammetry
- Keeping GPS logs
- Using app store engineering applications
- Taking notes
- Using the compass
- Reading and responding to emails
- Researching information
7. USB drive
Whether in the office or in the field, a USB drive always comes in handy. For example in the field, many times I’ve had vendors and customers ask me if I had a USB drive on hand. They wanted to do a quick data dump for a new project.
I typically carry a SanDisk 128GB USB drive with me. This way, I know I always have enough space to upload anything I need.
8. A reliable pencil and eraser
It doesn’t get any more basic than a pencil and eraser. But, go to any project site without a pencil and see how limited you feel. Even with a smartphone, you can’t quickly draw up diagrams.
Plus with a pencil, you can write on just about anything. You can take notes on reports, business cards, and spreadsheets you’re given. This is A LOT of flexibility.
A reliable and durable calculator is super useful. You don’t need anything too fancy either, like a graphing calculator. You just want to be able to do basic functions like the following:
- Square root
Also, be sure your calculator screen displays your math equations. This way, you can catch any input mistakes, which leads us to the delete function. You want to be able to delete inputs, without having to delete your entire calculation string. These are both useful functions when you’re in the field in non-ideal situations.
I use a Texas Instruments TI30XIIS scientific calculator. It’s cheap, durable, and has yet to let me down.
My office stapler gets A LOT of use. I also carry a small stapler with me in my field bag. Because clients, customers, and other engineers always hand me unstapled papers.
The best way to organize floating sheets in the field is to quickly staple them together.
11. Dual head screwdriver
When I go into the field, I always carry a small screwdriver with me, with dual heads. A flat head and a Phillips heads.
The screwdrivers come in handy when I need to open panels and other equipment from time to time. It’s always better to have them with me than to be stuck and not be able to do what I need.
12. Waterproof folder/clipboard
When I go to the field, I carry a waterproof folder with me. The key is the waterproof element. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen other engineers tuck their papers in their jackets in the rain. And each and every time, their papers got wet and deformed.
Plus, without a hard surface to write on, you’ll be constantly looking around for where to write. This is very inefficient when you could just bring along a clipboard. The clipboard I use also houses my pencils, erasers, rulers, and so much more.
13. Rugged waterproof bag
You only have so many pockets in your pants and jacket to store your tools. So, you need a bag to carry everything with you, as you never know what you’ll need in the field.
Find a good size durable and waterproof bag with good handles for carrying. Because field conditions can be harsh and unforgiving. A rugged waterproof backpack works great too.
14. Safety glasses/goggles
Sometimes I need to protect my eyes from flying debris in factories. So, I carry a pair of safety goggles with me at job sites.
Just be sure the safety glasses fit well and don’t slip off your face when you look down. Not only does this defeat the purpose, but it’s annoying.
15. Tape measure
My 25-foot tape measure goes with me everywhere. I’m always measuring equipment and various clearances in the field. Because every last inch makes a difference in design work.
Also, as the saying goes, measure twice and cut once. Of course, if you’re in the business of cutting things.
16. Hard hat and steel toe shoes
This isn’t a tool per se. But you need the proper attire when you go to certain job sites. Especially in construction sites and factories.
The last thing you want is for something to fall on your tennis shoe and break your foot. Or even worse, if something falls on your head.
Earplugs come in handy despite what you may think. I know one too many people who hear poorly because they dismissed loud noises in factories. They all regret it now.
For example, I visit hydroelectric facilities a lot, and it’s super LOUD inside. So, you need to protect your ears, just as you would your eyes.
18. Analog and digital calipers
Calipers come in handy when you need to measure small distance clearances.
Some small measurements look large until you try to fit something inside. This is where calipers enter the picture to help you make accurate measurements.
I keep both electric and Scotch tape in my field bag. You never know when you need to tape something together.
I’ve had instances where something I was carrying fell apart. But thankfully, I had tape on me, to instantly hold it together. Problem solved!
20. Tissue wipes
When I go into the field or a factory, I always carry tissue wipes with me. My hands always end up very dirty. And a lot of the time, I don’t have time to properly wash my hands.
So, I wipe my hands with tissue wipes. Or, I use a tissue wipe to hold my pencil because I don’t want to make my other belongings dirty.
21. Hand sanitizer
Like tissue wipes, hand sanitizer is important in the field. Because you touch all types of gross things.
I find hand sanitizer to be more convenient than tissue wipes too. I can carry a small hand sanitizer bottle in my pocket, which I can’t do with tissue wipes.
Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll carry different types of gloves. I always carry heavy-duty gloves.
These gloves help protect my hands when working with sharp objects. Plus, they’re super helpful when I need to lift heavy objects.
Depending on the field of engineering you’re in, you may use different unique tools. But the tools I’ve outlined are the most basic and all engineers can benefit from them.
Even more, I recommend you ask your more senior colleagues what tools they recommend. This will give you all the tools you need to become a more efficient and effective engineer. Then over time, you can discover new tools of your own to further optimize your work.
What do you think are the most useful tools for engineers? What other useful tools for engineers would you recommend?
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.