A mechanical engineer holding a small piece of metal

A mechanical engineer could...


Design a safety harness for an upside-down amusement park ride. Riders turned upside-down on a roller coaster Model the bending and twisting displayed by solar panels on a space telescope. The Hubble Telescope orbiting Earth
Design surgical robots that improve precision and reduce incision size, blood loss, pain, and healing time. Two surgeons use a machine to perform an operation Design carbon fiber prosthetic blades for high-speed running. A runner with a prosthetic leg on a track
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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
Median Salary
Mechanical Engineer
  $84,190
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
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$30,000
$40,000
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$100,000
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Interview
  • Mark Thies decides on and designs the mechanical equipment needed for large projects like oil refineries and power plants.
  • Meet Nidhi Rai, a Product Engineer at Pentair who tests and develops products used in Aquaculture (fish farming). She uses a mix of brainstorming and computer software when developing products, and also enjoys troubleshooting to get the optimal product performance.
  • Meet Seng Chang, a Product Engineer who works for the Pentair Equipment Protection Global Business Unit (GBU) at Pentair Ltd. He deals with new projects, solves technical questions, and guides technicians—as they build industrial air conditioners.
  • 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!
  • Keisha Jackson has an amazing job—applying her mechanical engineering skills to designing spacesuits for astronauts! Read about her path from high school to NASA engineer.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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.

Meet a mechanical engineer who designs the ice cream machinery for Ben and Jerry's ice cream shops in this video from PBS Kids' DesignSquad.

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.

Work Environment

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.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Mechanical Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
Do you think you could build a car powered by nothing but air? A balloon-powered car is pushed forward by air escaping from a balloon, and it is fun and easy to build with materials you already have around your house. Can you imagine how you would want your own balloon-powered car to look? Can you design a car that will travel as far as possible? You can even measure your car's speed using your smartphone and Google's Science Journal app. Get ready to grab some simple supplies to bring your… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wanted to build your very own robot from scratch? Bristlebots are a cheap, easy, and fun-to-build robot made from the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor. Once completed, they buzz along the top of a table like bugs. How can you make a bristlebot go faster? In this project, you will build bristlebots from two different types of toothbrushes, and race them against each other to find out. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
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Science Fair Project Idea
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If you have ever been shot with a rubber band then you know it has energy in it, enough energy to smack you in the arm and cause a sting! But just how much energy does a rubber band have? In this experiment you will find out how the stretching of a rubber band affects the amount of energy that springs out of it. Read more

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Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Medtronic
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Seagate
Free science fair projects.