5 Useful Tools Every Engineering Student Should Learn

5 Useful Tools Every Engineering Student Should Learn

As a student of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics aka the STEM field learning basic tools from early on can go a long way. These tools can facilitate your college life to the next level.

I was Introduced to these tools while on my internships. I was so surprised as to why they were not taught in college. They should be. These tools can make all the technicalities of assignments, looking up data, coding to find new data etc. much simpler. Knowing these five tools can help you out with everyday college tasks.

In this article, I will talk about five software that you can use for plotting graphs, finding the plot points of graphs, design tools, postprocessing tools and coding languages. I will discuss what they are used for if they are OpenSource or paid, how easy it is to learn, how long it might take to learn and the free alternatives to them (if they are paid in the first place).

Let us begin.

Disclaimer: This post contains some prices which are taken from online sources and are subjective to change as per the company. For more information look up the disclosure policy
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SigmaPlot

The first tool that I will talk about is SigmaPlot. It is a tool used for data analysis and scientific graphing. Have you seen those serious looking graphs in journals, yeah, made using SigmaPlot. If you are well into the game you must have heard of SigmaPlot. I was not aware of this wonderful piece of software until my junior year in college. Let us dive deeper and get to know this software better.

  • How it started

    Jandel Corporation developed SigmaPlot and merged with SPSS Inc. after its 4.0 version. SYSTAT Software now maintains and owns SigmaPlot after the 8.0 version.

  • What Can It Do

    SigmaPlot is a scientific graphing tool which can read spreadsheets and can perform mathematical and statistical analysis.  Only available for Microsoft systems, SigmaPlot shows work in a crisp and precise manner.

    It gives an ample amount of 2D and 3D graph types which are of publishable quality and fully customisable. The visual representation in the form of contour plots, radar plots, scatter plots offer a wide variety of options for research purposes.

  • How Much Does it Cost

    SigmaPlot is not a free software, although it does offer a 30 day trial period. It also offers a one year and two-year license for students starting at £199.

    Many universities offer such software to their students at no or a minimum price.

  • The Learning Curve

    SigmaPlot takes about 1-2 weeks to learn in its entirety and is a fairly simple tool to use.

    I will be starting a tutorial series on YouTube soon so stay tuned for that!

  • The Free Alternative

    Excel

    We all know Excel; the golden boy of Microsoft Office. Initially, we all must have used it to make lists, do some calculations but it is more than it seems. Excel is compatible with MacOS, Microsoft (obviously) iOS and Android.

    It can do everything that SigmaPlot can do. Although the user interface is a little different, the experience is the same as SigmaPlot. If you do not have access to SigmaPlot or do not want to bend your knees too much.

WebPlotDigitiser

This tool is great for those who happen to work with graphs. That is almost anyone and everyone who is part of the STEM field. As said by the website, it is a reverse engineering tool that extracts the plot points from the graphs.

This is especially useful in situations where you need to compare data with your findings so as to validate them. In such cases, sitting down and finding each plot point can be mundane. This is where WebPlotDigitiser shines.

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  • How it started

    Launched by Ankit Rohatgi in 2011, WebPlotDigitizer is a tool used by thousands of academicians and graduate students worldwide. You can read more about by clicking here -> WebPlotDigitiser.

  • What Can It Do

    WebPlotDigitizer extracts exact data points from graphs. Extracting of data points can be a strenuous task when done by hand, not to mention often inaccurate. This tool has a great algorithm that takes two references for x-coordinate and y-coordinate each and then according to the references graphs the plot and extracts the point.

    It allows extracting the following types of plot types into excel sheets.

  • How Much Does it Cost

    WebPlotDigitizer is a free tool and is available online and is also downloadable for Linux, Apple and Windows.

  • The Learning Curve

    It is a relatively simple tool to use and you can get a hang of it within a day. To make it simple I will be uploading a small tutorial on my YouTube Channel soon so stay tuned for that!

  • The Free Alternative

    I do not think you need an alternative! IT IS FREE!

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Python/Matlab

Python/Matlab are well known in the engineering world. But I felt that these two languages are worth mentioning as they are both great tools every student in the STEM fields should learn.

Python/Matlab are great as a coding language but can prove to be brilliant post-processing tools and can aid in making graphs, contour plots; basically visualising data.




  • How it started

    Matlab is a programing language developed by MathWorks. Matlab can perform various tasks. From numerical computing to symbolic computing, Matlab can do it all. It has multiple functionalities that are utilised by professionals from various fields worldwide.

    Created by Guido van Rossum, Python is one of the simplest programming languages to learn. It also offers various functionalities and is opensource.

  • What Can It Do

    Matlab and Python can act as great tools to post-process data. Matlab has more functionalities with the Simulink package which is not offered by Python. But if you have to compare the graphing and contouring, it provides almost the same functionalities.

  • How Much Does it Cost

    Matlab starts its cost at 23 USD for the student license. Matlab does offer a free trial for students for a limited period. Python, however, is free and opensource. You can download it by clicking here. You can also download the Anaconda Distribution which makes it simpler to use.

  • The Learning Curve

    Python is a fairly more simple language to learn as compared to Matlab. Although both the languages take more than a month to get a hang of if you do not have any experience in coding, Python can be easier to learn.

    Python being opensource is also widely available. Matlab is a more extensive language and can be great if you have access to it. Many universities offer a free version for its faculty and students. Do confirm with your university if you have one.

  • The Free Alternative

    Python is the free alternative here.

Catia/AutoCAD

The tool is one which should be learned by students from all fields of science. These are tools for computer-aided design and development. Used by designers, architects, engineers, planners and many in the STEM fields, these design tools can prove to be extremely helpful in visualising and drafting designs.

  • How it started

    Catia was started by a French aircraft manufacturer AVIONS MARCEL DASSAULT in 1977 and had later been adopted by various fields of engineering and science. The software has since grown and had been in use by various companies as a design.

    On the other hand, AutoCAD is created by Autodesk in December 1982.

  • What Can It Do

    AutoCAD and Catia are designing software that caters to designers all over the world. These software make design and visualisation of machines, buildings, aircraft parts, etc more viable. These software are great for making engineering blueprints and should be learnt by all in the STEM fields. AutoCAD also offers more functionality.

  • How Much Does it Cost

    AutoCAD is a paid software but does offer free versions for students and educators with some restrictions.  The paid version starts at around $400 dollars.

    Catia, on the other hand, is a paid software. It does offer the CATIA V5 Student Edition starting at $99.




  • The Learning Curve

    AutoCAD and Catia do have a learning curve. If you know the basis of engineering drawing, these software can take around a week to learn and as usual, you will get a hang of it with practice.

  • The Free Alternative

    AutoCAD offers a free alternative for students and educators.

Tecplot

Tecplot is a post-processing tool used for visualisation and analysis of CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) models, structural analysis,  etc. This software is not essential for all fields of engineering and science but makes a great tool for anyone in aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, fluid mechanics, space sciences, civil engineering and all the related fields.

Tecplot has four types of tools dedicated to different applications in engineering and science. They are namely, Tecplot Chorus, Tecplot 360, Tecplot Focus and Tecplot RS. Here I will be talking about Tecplot 360 as that is what I have used.

  • What Can It Do

    Tecplot is a great tool to visualise data. I first came across Tecplot during my internship where I had used it to visualise the simulation data collected using Ansys Fluent. You can visualise dynamic as well as static data using Tecplot which is extremely helpful for engineers and people in science that have to deal with gas dynamics and fluid mechanics.

    It is also useful in the field of geoscience, biomedical fields etc.

  • How Much Does it Cost

    Starting at $950 Tecplot offers various price regimes to for its different types of software it produces. It offers a lower academic pricing which in various universities is offered for free to its students. To get the academic pricing you need to fill a form to get the listing.

  • The Learning Curve

    Tecplot offers various courses on its website. It is a simple software and can take a few weeks to get a hang of.

  • The Free Alternative

    Many universities offer free versions to students and educators on campus.

So there you go! These are five great software that can aid in enhancing you as a student in engineering and science. Learning of post-processing tools in your freshman year can go a long way and can prove to be extremely helpful. I have also written an article on 5 Greatest Research Tools Every Graduate Student Needs which is supplementary to this article.

Thank you so much for reading the post! Do subscribe to my list to get the freebies every Sunday and Thursday right at your inbox along with weekly updates. As a subscriber, you get to also be a part of my growing facebook group where we all get to connect to each other. Let us grow slowly and steadily and support each other in the journey with this platform!

Also, it would be great of you to comment and let me know how these tools helped you out. I reply to all! Do share this post with your friends and spread the word. If you have any doubts, want to start a conversation or do a collaboration go to the start here page.

Have an awesome day!

Treat me with a cup of coffee if this post helped you in any way! 😀





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Some of my favourite posts in the technical me section are:
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6 comments on “5 Useful Tools Every Engineering Student Should Learn

  1. My husband is a EE so I really read this catch up…. LOL. Some days it is as if he speaks a different language all together. However his 2 cents is learn the stuff to pass the test because most of it you never use in the field …..LOL.

    1. Yes! Matlab is a relatively more complicated language I feel due to its overwhelming amount of features. Thanks for reading the post!

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