Mechanical EngineersThe field of mechanical engineering is one of the broadest career displines. Mechanical engineers are involved in design, development, construction, testing, and research relating to various types of machines, tools, engines and thermal devices. The work on all stages of a product, from research and development to design and manufacturing.
Since most industries rely on mechanical systems and devices, mechanical engineers are employed in just about every industry worldwide. They're employed in manufacturing, energy and power, construction and various medical industries, to name just a few.
DutiesThe duties of a mechanical engineer include:
- Evaluating problems and creating mechanical devices which could solve them
- Creating new designs for mechanical devices, and preparing blueprints so the devices can be made
- Developing and subsequently testing a prototype of the device
- Analyzing the results of the tests, and modifying the device's design if necessary
- Supervising the device's manufacturing process
- Internal combustion engines, steam and gas turbines, electric generators, and other power-generating machines
- Air-conditioning, refrigeration systems, and other power-consuming machines
- Machines and robots used in manufacturing and industrial production
- Elevators, escalators, and other machines within buildings
- Mechanical tools, and tools for other kinds of engineers
- Conveyor belts, automatic transfer systems, and other material-handling devices
- Design new devices, and analyze those designs
- Simulate a machine's functions in a virtual environment, and test those functions
- Establish specifications for the device's parts
- Ensure the quality of all devices
- Direct the production and manufacturing processes
Work EnvironmentMechanical engineering is the second-largest field of engineering. Mechanical engineers hold over 243,000 jobs in a wide range of industries, such as manufacturing industries, research and development, the federal government, and engineering services.
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – 21%
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences – 6%
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – 5%
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing – 5%
- Federal government, excluding postal service – 5%
Mechanical engineers typically do their work in offices, but they sometimes need to visit worksites to solve equipment-related issues.
How to Become a Mechanical EngineerA bachelor's degree is required to become a mechanical engineer. Managerial positions usually require a graduate degree. All 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, require mechanical engineers to be licensed before marketing their services to the public.
A bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is required to start out in the field of mechanical engineering.
Undergraduate students of mechanical engineering programs typically study mathematics, life and physical sciences, and engineering and design. Most programs are 4 years long, but it is common for students to take 4 to 5 years to complete their degree. Programs often blend internships and co-ops (which provide practical training in the industry) with engineering theory (which get the students ready for graduate-level study).
Many students enter engineering school after having spent 3 years in a liberal arts institution, taking pre-engineering courses. In some cases, studying core subjects in the engineering school for 2 more years results in a bachelor's degree from both schools.
Five-year programs are available from some universities and colleges. Students who complete these programs earn not only a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree as well. Many cooperative programs, which combine classroom learning and on-the-job training, are also available. These programs take up to 6 years to complete, and provide the student with valuable industry experience while helping to pay for their schooling.
Engineering programs should be evaluated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Students who have graduated from an ABET-accredited program are more attractive to employers. Also, graduating from an ABET-accredited program is a prerequisite for professional licensure.
Mechanical engineers who market their services to the public directly must be licensed in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia. A mechanical engineer who has become licensed is known as a professional engineer (PE). Every state's requirements are different, but licensure typically requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, at least 4 years of relevant experience in the industry, and a passing score on a state exam.
As soon as an engineer graduates, he or she may take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. If the engineer passes this exam, he or she becomes known as an engineer intern (EI), or an engineer in training (EIT). The next exam is called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, and can only be taken after the EI has gained enough experience on the job.
Many states require engineers to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their license. State licenses are usually recognized by other states as well, as long as the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own requirements.
PayThe median salary of a mechanical engineer is more than $78,000 a year. The median salary is the salary at which 50% of the workers earned more and 50% earned less. The lowest 10% of engineers earn less than $51,000 a year, and the highest 10% earn more than $119,000 a year.
The following table shows the industries which employ the most mechanical engineers, as well as the median salary of engineers in those industries:
- Federal government, excluding postal service – $91,910
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences – $88,190
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing – $83,870
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – $83,310
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – $82,210
Job OutlookIt's estimated that job prospects for mechanical engineers will grow by 9% in the next decade. This growth is slower than usual, when compared to the average occupation. Engineers who study continually to keep pace with technological advancements will be the most likely to be hired into new positions. Mechanical engineers can be found in a wide range of industries, working on a wide range of projects. Therefore, the number of job opportunities for mechanical engineers will vary across industries.
More and more companies, in an effort to cut costs, are tending to outsource their engineering needs to temporary engineering firms, instead of hiring permanent company engineers. This will result in an increased demand for mechanical engineers in the realms of architectural, engineering, and related services. The need for mechanical engineers will be particularly high in the manufacturing of machinery and transportation equipment. New technologies are being integrated into vehicle and vehicle systems which will result in more environmentally-friendly vehicles, such as clean diesel engines and hybrid-electric cars. Designing these new vehicles will require the expertise of mechanical engineers. Another area in which mechanical engineers will be needed is the area of industrial machinery. There is an increasing demand in various industries to replace expensive human labor with machines, which will require a large amount of conceptual work and implementation on the parts of mechanical engineers.
Mechanical engineers play a key role in the advancement of industrial technology. The fields of nanotechnology, alternative energies, and remanufacturing are promising pursuits which will likely yield many opportunities to mechanical engineers.
Clean energy sources, such as solar panels and windmills, are growing rapidly in popularity and efficacy. Mechanical engineers help to design and produce these clean energy sources.
Remanufacturing is a promising new field which involves rebuilding discarded or obsolete goods for new use. This process saves local governments a lot of money in waste disposal, and is therefore becoming quite popular. It is likely that remanufacturing will become a common focus of study in undergraduate mechanical engineering programs.
Another burgeoning field of technology is nanotechnology, which is the process of manipulating matter at a very small scale. Nanotechnology is likely to affect job prospects for mechanical engineers, because these engineers will be needed to design and produce new nano-sized devices. Nanotechnology will be instrumental in designing and constructing faster and more powerful microchips.
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