A mechanical engineer could...
|Design a safety harness for an upside-down amusement park ride.||Model the bending and twisting displayed by solar panels on a space telescope.|
|Design surgical robots that improve precision and reduce incision size, blood loss, pain, and healing time.||Design carbon fiber prosthetic blades for high-speed running.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Mechanical engineers are part of your everyday life, designing the spoon you used to eat your breakfast, your breakfast's packaging, the flip-top cap on your toothpaste tube, the zipper on your jacket, the car, bike, or bus you took to school, the chair you sat in, the door handle you grasped and the hinges it opened on, and the ballpoint pen you used to take your test. Virtually every object that you see around you has passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer. Consequently, their skills are in demand to design millions of different products in almost every type of industry.|
|Key Requirements||Creative, analytical, mathematical, with a hands-on understanding of the world, as well as excellent communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus; if available, statistics, applied technology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Watch this interview with NASA mechanical engineer Kobie Boykins, who helped design and build the Mars Rover. He says he loves his job building spacecraft—it's something he has wanted to do since he was seven years old!
Education and Training
You generally need at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering to enter this field. It takes four or five years to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering. Some programs include periods of work experience along with formal classes. Many engineers go on to obtain advanced degrees in a specialized field of engineering or business administration. Engineers often continue their education throughout their careers to remain aware of new developments in their field. Most employers encourage engineers to take formal courses that help engineers to improve their job performance. Some even pay the cost of tuition for these courses. In addition, mechanical engineers read and study professional and trade journals.
Engineers whose work affects life, health, or property or who offer their services to the public must be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before being licensed as a professional engineer.
Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Nature of the Work
Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.
Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, manufacture, and test tools, engines, machines, and other mechanical devices. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Engineers in this discipline work on power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines. They also work on power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, machine tools, material handling systems, elevators and escalators, industrial production equipment, and robots used in manufacturing. Mechanical engineers also design tools that other engineers need for their work. In addition, mechanical engineers work in manufacturing or agriculture production, maintenance, or technical sales, and many become administrators or managers.
Mechanical engineers spend part of their time in clean, well-lighted office buildings. At other times they work at construction sites or in noisy factories. Working conditions vary widely since mechanical engineers are employed in so many different kinds of jobs. Their basic workweek is usually forty hours. Overtime is necessary in some jobs, especially when project deadlines must be met.
On the Job
- Read and interpret blueprints, technical drawings, schematics, and computer-generated reports.
- Confer with engineers and other personnel to implement operating procedures, resolve system malfunctions, and provide technical information.
- Research and analyze customer design proposals, specifications, manuals, and other data to evaluate the feasibility, cost, and maintenance requirements of designs or applications.
- Specify system components or direct modification of products to ensure conformance with engineering design and performance specifications.
- Research, design, evaluate, install, operate, and maintain mechanical products, equipment, systems and processes to meet requirements, applying knowledge of engineering principles.
- Investigate equipment failures and difficulties to diagnose faulty operation, and to make recommendations to maintenance crew.
- Assist drafters in developing the structural design of products using drafting tools or computer-assisted design (CAD) or drafting equipment and software.
- Provide feedback to design engineers on customer problems and needs.
- Oversee installation, operation, maintenance, and repair to ensure that machines and equipment are installed and functioning according to specifications.
- Conduct research that tests and analyzes the feasibility, design, operation and performance of equipment, components and systems.
- Recommend design modifications to eliminate machine or system malfunctions.
- Develop and test models of alternate designs and processing methods to assess feasibility, operating condition effects, possible new applications and necessity of modification.
- Develop, coordinate, and monitor all aspects of production, including selection of manufacturing methods, fabrication, and operation of product designs.
- Estimate costs and submit bids for engineering, construction, or extraction projects, and prepare contract documents.
- Perform personnel functions such as supervision of production workers, technicians, technologists and other engineers, or design of evaluation programs.
- Solicit new business and provide technical customer service.
- Establish and coordinate the maintenance and safety procedures, service schedule, and supply of materials required to maintain machines and equipment in the prescribed condition.
- Study industrial processes to determine where and how application of equipment can be made.
- Write performance requirements for product development or engineering projects.
- Apply engineering principles and practices to emerging fields such as robotics, waste management, and biomedical engineering.
- Design test control apparatus and equipment and develop procedures for testing products.
Companies That Hire Mechanical Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Drag Racing in the Water
- A Cure for Hooks and Slices? Asymmetric Dimple Patterns and Golf Ball Flight
- A Ground-Breaking Revelation: Testing Longitudinal Waves in Different Soil Types
- Aerodynamics and Ice Hockey
- Aerodynamics of Air Hockey
- Applying Hooke's Law: Make Your Own Spring Scale
- Are Laminates Stronger?
- Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art
- Back and Forth to Go Forward: A Snake on Wheels?
- Balancing the Load: The See-Saw as a Simple Machine
- Basketball Physics: Where Does a Bouncing Ball's Energy Go?
- Beach Bum Science: Compression of Wet Sand
- Bet You Can’t Hit Me! The Science of Catapult Statistics
- Bombs Away! A Ping Pong Catapult
- Bouncing Basketballs: How Much Energy Does Dribbling Take?
- Build a Gauss Rifle!
- Build a Light-Tracking Robot Critter
- Build a Water Clock to Show the Drip, Drip, Drip of Time
- Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun
- Build Your Own Telescope
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Mechanical Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers: www.asme.org
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- Career Corner Digital. (2008, March 17). Mechanical Engineer: A Day in the Life. Retrieved August 5, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcG47OQBR58
- WGBH Educational Foundation. (2008). Pete Gosselin. Retrieved August 5, 2009, from http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/ice-cream/
- Net Industries. (2009). Mechanical Engineer Job Description, Career as a Mechanical Engineer, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from http://careers.stateuniversity.com/pages/407/Mechanical-Engineer.html
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Northrop Grumman