I’m a mechanical engineer. I love mechanical things. My parents gave me lots of Legos to play with as a child and I suppose I never entirely grew out of them.
If I had to say what the favorite part of my job is, I’d probably say it’s when parts come in the mail. I mean, it’s like Christmas. Stuff shows up on your desk in a nice box and you get to rip it open and play with what’s inside. How awesome is that?
After parts arrive though, there are still the tools to play with. Here are some of the coolest tools out there that I think every mechanical engineer should have.
Dial Indicator and Force Gauge
The dial indicator and force gauge, although useful on their own, are even more powerful in a pair. The force gauge’s function is pretty self explanatory (used for measuring applied force), but the dial indicator’s purpose isn’t quite as clear. Just as the calipers are useful for measuring distance very precisely, the dial indicator is very useful for measuring change in position. A decent one will measure displacements as small as .001” and a really good one will measure displacements down to .0001”. The ability to detect small displacements is important for aligning shafts, for instance, or verifying the repeatability of motion of a mechanism.
When the two tools are used together, they can be used to measure force and displacement, which leads directly to a measure of stiffness. Since stiffness is a property that arises from a part’s material selection as well as its geometry, a measure of stiffness gives fantastic insight into part behavior. It’s also a great non-destructive test to verify a component against a model, as well.
The Chapman set is my favorite brand of multi-tool screwdriver. You can get different sets, but mine has a nice selection of flat heads, Phillips heads, and Allen wrenches. It’s much more than a screwdriver with swappable tips though, because it comes with a little ratchet attachment that fits the tips, making it possible to work in tight spaces that no screwdriver could ever reach.
Mirror on a Stick
Mirror on a Stick. Just like the one your dentist uses, or even better, one with an adjustable angle. Honestly, it’s so simple and it’s also fun to say. Mirror on a Stick. Mirror on a Stick. Mirror on a Stick. I can’t recall how many times I’ve had to peak into an assembled, or partially assembled part and check for things like screws that fell loose during vibration testing, part damage, or other such nonsense. Mirror on a Stick. Get one.
Finally, I would never be caught without my pocket knife. My Leatherman has a knife and a pair of pliers and that alone is worth the price of the tool. Oh, and my Leatherman has a bottle opener and corkscrew, if you happen to find that all that engineering work gives you a thirst.
What kinds of tools do you find help you in your mechanical work?
Thanks to BinaryTaskForce for the dial indicator picture.