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Is it important to know MATLAB in aerospace engineering?Helpful Member! 

RedAndBlue123 (Aerospace) (OP)
4 Mar 12 16:06
I am majoring in Aerospace Engineering, focusing on structural/solid mechanics. I was wondering if any practicing engineers would recommend knowledge of MATLAB. When I look at job applications, I mostly see that companies require that you know NASTRAN, PATRON, etc. but I see nothing about programming such as MATLAB, FORTRAN, C++, etc.

Could anyone tell me whether or not it would be worth my time to learn MATLAB?
epeus (Aerospace)
4 Mar 12 18:32
Nastran/Patran are quite different to Matlab, they are FE modellers/Solvers whilst Matlab is more of a high level program language.

Some universities do utilise Matlab as a tool during the Aerospace/Aeronautical course, for example for flight mechanics and aerodynamics. It is actually quite good in these applications.

I have used it in the industry to replace fortran code, its great for dealing with large amounts of data (quickly) and generating output graphics (charts etc.

Whether you need to learn it is a different story, for a engineer, its just another tool in box, just like FE programs, spreadsheet programs etc.

If you have any existing programming experience maybe a short intro to Matlab may be sufficient to gain a understanding of what its capable of doing so you can identify tasks in teh future that may be more suited to solved by Matlab.
GregLocock (Automotive)
4 Mar 12 19:35
If you will be doing any heavy processing of numbers that hacks will do in Excel, you will be able to do it faster and more robustly in Matlab. It won't be as pretty, and the learning curve is steeper.

If you want to have a job where you merely enter numbers into worksheets or programs that other people have written then no, don't worry about it.

If the price of Matlab puts you off then the free alternative, Octave is very compatible.


Greg Locock

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Helpful Member!  IRstuff (Aerospace)
4 Mar 12 21:41
If you're doing analysis, Matlab is definitely a plus.  Excel, which is indeed a workhorse, pales in comparison to Matlab.  For example, Excel can plot 32K data points, but Matlab can easily handle 250k data points without batting an eyelid.

I would certainly agree that getting familiar with Octave is a quick and cheap way to get sufficient experience to pass the giggle test when you go for your first job interviews.  Nothing worse that putting, "familiar with XXXX," and getting called on it.

FAQ731-376: Forum Policies

rb1957 (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 6:32
me, i've never used Matlab ... Excel, MathCad, heck even Lotus 123
ESPcomposites (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 9:36
I have seen Matlab used for certain disciplines in aerospace. But for structures/solid mechanics it is pretty rare. In fact, a very realistic scenario is that the company does not have a license. Even if they do, they probably are not for the structural engineers.

To compound that, if it is not a standard tool in your discipline, then your peers can offer no help. Your lead engineers probably won't like like it (or accept it) because they can not check your work (or it would take too much time).

Long story short...the tools used in academia often times do not translate to industry tools.


IRstuff (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 10:30
Pretty hard to do a vibration or servo analysis without a PSD or or other profile.  Not clear how one gets a PSD from measured data with a tool other than Matlab; Excel certainly cannot do that without a lot of help; Mathcad can do that, but, while I'm personally a fan of Mathcad, its graphing capability is still seriously lacking.  Not so with Matlab; nice clean PSD graphs, etc.

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dwallace1971 (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 11:31
While a working knowledge of MATLAB is not a necessity, it is desirable.  As stated above, it's another tool in your engineering toolbox, and knowing how to use it makes you more marketable.  As you progress in your education, keep in mind that two things drive how much compensation you can demand for your services, the demand of the marketplace, and the supply of the skillset.  The more skills you have, the more marketable you will be.   
ESPcomposites (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 14:22
Good points. Perhaps the OP should more clearly define which field he is entering (and which area he is interested in). If it is aircraft structures (where tools such as NASTRAN/PATRAN are common), a tremendous % would not ever have a need for MATLAB. I am choosing to focus on the general rule, rather than the exceptions (which of course there are many).

And while I agree that having a large set of tools is desirable, you need to learn the right tools. Everyone has a finite amount of time so learning one tool means that you are trading time which could have been spent learning another. That said, it is important to learn the right tools and not just any tool.


KENAT (Mechanical)
5 Mar 12 15:18
Some of the guys at my last aero/defence place did their 'hand calcs' in MathCAD or Matlab, I forget which so they could be changed more easily and looked better etc.

So I'd definitely think of having one of these general math/analysis tools as being a useful companion to the more specialized software.

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ESPcomposites (Aerospace)
5 Mar 12 17:29

Those two are very different programs.  MathCAD is far more common for aerostructures because of the low learning curve, low cost of entry, and you can create reports easily.  It works great for structures.  Matlab is quite expensive and is used for specialized topics (in the Aerostructures domain). It would be an unlikely choice for typical structures problems.   


KENAT (Mechanical)
5 Mar 12 18:02
I used one at uni, one at work, but it was 10+ years ago so my memory fades.

Since then I've been doing it by hand/on calculator or beating Excel into submission etc. as required. winky smile

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