There are 21 useful tools every engineer needs to have to optimize their work. Even more, to maximize their success.
Some of these tools you can use in the office, while others are for fieldwork only. But, all types of engineers can use these tools. I use each of them myself as a working engineer.
These days, we all have powerful cameras on our smartphones. You can instantly capture amazing photos and videos in the field. I suggest taking many field photos and videos to do the following:
- Complete designs without overlooking real-world details
- Maintain a record to combat future problems and wrongful accusations
- Troubleshoot problems
As an example of a wrongful accusation, I had someone once tell me, “You were never there. How did you discuss this problem with me?” I had snapped a photo of everyone at the site though, so this guy couldn’t weasel himself out.
Then when it comes to troubleshooting, look no further than NASA. They mount cameras everywhere to capture their launches. This helps resolve problems and allows for improved rocket optimization. Say, re-engineering a nozzle, which shakes too much.
#2 Microsoft Excel
I use Excel excessively. I even wrote an article about why Excel is so awesome for engineers.
The following are some of my personal use cases for Excel:
- Manage, organize, and analyze collected project data
- Write programs to automate problem-solving
- Manage project budgets and schedules
Learn as much as you possibly can about Excel, as you’ll use 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 for inspections. A powerful small flashlight is always handy.
#4 A second monitor
One monitor simply won’t cut it to maximize productivity. You need 2 or 3 widescreen monitors. Between my two 32-inch monitors, I keep the following open as I design:
- CAD software
- Product specifications
- Design parameters
Multiple monitors are even more important if you always multitask. Because switching between tabs is inefficient.
#5 Architectural scale ruler
I always have an architectural scale ruler sitting on my desk corner. Because design drawings come to you in all dimensions. While a scale ruler allows you to quickly dimension drawing elements.
Also, clear rulers are very helpful. Looking under your ruler surprisingly comes in handy when you design by hand.
Almost everyone has a smartphone. But 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. This gives me enough space to upload anything.
#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 become. Because even with a smartphone, you can’t quickly draw up diagrams.
Also, with a pencil, you gain the flexibility to write on just about anything. You can take notes on reports, business cards, spreadsheets, and so much more.
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 allows you to catch 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. Efficiency is the name of the game.
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 carry a small screwdriver with a flat and a Phillips head.
The screwdriver comes in handy when I need to open panels and other equipment. It’s always better to have it with me than to be stuck and not be able to do what I need.
#12 Waterproof folder/clipboard
Carry a waterproof folder because you never know when it’ll rain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen other engineers tuck their papers inside their jackets in the rain. Yet, each and every time, their papers still got wet.
Plus, without a hard surface, in frustration, you’ll constantly look around for what to write on. The clipboard I use also houses my pencils, erasers, ruler, and so much more.
#13 Rugged waterproof bag
You only have so many pockets in your pants and jacket to store your tools.
Bring a bag to store all your tools. I suggest a good-sized 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
To protect my eyes from flying debris in factories, I carry a pair of safety glasses.
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, 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 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, breaks your head.
Earplugs surprisingly come in handy. I know one too many people who hear poorly because they dismissed loud noises in factories.
When I visit hydroelectric facilities, I always use them. 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, helping you make accurate measurements.
I keep both electric and Scotch tape in my field bag. You never know when you need to tape things together.
I’ve had instances where something I was carrying all of a sudden fell apart. I pulled out my tape, and problem solved.
#20 Hand sanitizer
When I go into the field or a factory, my hands always end up dirty. And in most instances, I don’t have access to running water and soap to wash my hands.
The hand sanitizer keeps my hands and other tools clean.
Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll carry different types of gloves.
I always carry heavy-duty gloves. They help protect my hands when working with sharp objects. Plus, they help 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.