Mechanical engineers design, modify, test, and troubleshoot mechanical equipment, products, and systems. Some of the areas in which mechanical engineers work include industrial systems (such as those used in refineries and manufacturing plants), manufactured products, environmental control systems (such as heating, ventilating, and cooling), transportation equipment, public utilities, and emerging fields (such as robotics, and biomedical engineering).
Most mechanical engineers choose an area of specialization. The five most common fields within mechanical engineering are design, development, manufacturing, sales, and research. Often, a new product goes through various stages that require the skill and expertise of mechanical engineers within each of these fields. For this reason, most mechanical engineers work as part of a team. Those that work in smaller organizations may work in two or more of these categories.
Mechanical engineers often apply existing technologies to new designs and processes. The design process also includes a significant amount of research related to materials and components used, operating characteristics, ease of manufacture, and cost. Usually, samples called prototypes are built and tested before full-scale production is stated. Additionally, mechanical drawings and other supporting documents are created to help guide the manufacturing of the product.
Education and Training
In the U.S., mechanical engineers may need the following education and training:
- a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is a requirement for most entry-level positions
- a master's degree (with an area of specialization) after gaining experience in the workplace is helpful
On the Job
Mechanical engineers may work in an office environment. Although the role of a mechanical engineer can vary considerably, many mechanical engineers may travel to construction sites, test facilities, manufacturing facilities, and suppliers on a regular basis. They also may spend much of their time coordinating their efforts with co-workers, customers, and their counterparts in other segments of a company such as manufacturing. In addition to technical expertise, mechanical engineers must have strong written and oral communication skills.
Math on the Job
Mechanical engineers apply principles from calculus and trigonometry as well as other higher-level mathematics concepts on a regular basis. In fact, most mechanical systems can be described quite accurately through mathematical models. Mechanical engineers must also be able to apply theoretical results to practical solutions. This requires a great deal of creativity and perseverance.
- industrial designer
- structural engineer
- civil engineer