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What do mechanical engineers do?

Mechanical engineering is a very broad discipline with many potential career paths. From creating tiny medical devices to helping develop large spacecraft, the work of a mechanical engineer requires a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience. Here is a general overview of what day-to-day life might be like for a professional in this field.

What kind of tasks do mechanical engineers perform?

Mechanical engineers work in many capacities, which makes it difficult to explain all the work the field can possibly includes, but at its most basic level, the explanation is this: Mechanical engineers work with anything that moves. This includes large structures, the human body, small devices and everything in between. To work with these mechanical systems, the engineer must understand the intricacies of how they work, including thermodynamics, solid and fluid mechanics, design, instrumentation, control, heat transfer, materials and much more. On a day-to-day basis, a mechanical engineer might:

  • Analyze problems and figure out how to solve them through mechanical or thermal means
  • Use computer-aided design and analysis to design or reconfigure mechanical or thermal devices
  • Design, create and test prototypes
  • Scrutinize test results and apply that to redesigning as necessary
  • Become involved in the manufacturing of the device

These engineers apply such tasks to whatever field they are working in, whether it be aerospace, advanced energy, automation, biomedicine, textiles or solid-waste engineering, just to name a few.

What kinds of companies or industries do they work for?

Mechanical engineers can find work in a wide variety of fields, including basic engineering, research and development, energy conversion and resources, environment, transportation, materials and structures, manufacturing, and systems and design. Their day-to-day tasks are largely dependent on where their work is focused. Many of these fields are commonly used by almost every industry today, which is why mechanical engineers potentially have such vast career opportunities awaiting them upon graduation.

However, some industries hire more engineers than others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those with the highest number of mechanical engineers employed in 2013 included:

  • Architectural, engineering and related services
  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
  • Scientific research and development services
  • Federal executive branch
  • Motor vehicle parts manufacturing

The BLS reports that the job outlook for mechanical engineers as a whole is good, but not outstanding when it comes to job growth — the profession is projected to have just 5 percent growth nationally between 2012 and 2022. However, those in architectural, engineering and related services are expected to see good job growth in the coming years. The transportation equipment and machinery manufacturing industry is also expected to see robust growth numbers, thanks to the demand for next generation vehicles, such as hybrids and electric cars. Those who work in thermal energy can also expect faster than average growth.

Mechanical engineers can find work across the nation, but Michigan, Connecticut, South Carolina, Indiana and Wisconsin have the highest concentration of jobs. States that offer the highest salary for mechanical engineers include:

  • Alaska: $118,500 average annual wage
  • Delaware: $99,030 average annual wage
  • New Mexico: $98,510 average annual wage
  • California: $97,820 average annual wage
  • Texas: $97,650 average annual wage

What skills and education do you need to become a mechanical engineer?

Almost all entry-level positions require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Those who want to conduct research must typically hold a graduate degree, and those who sell services to the public must be licensed as a professional engineer, or PE. Licensing requires completing a four-year program, four years of relevant work experience and passing a state exam.

In addition to the required education and experience, a good engineer must also display certain soft skills. These include:

  • Impressive listening and communication skills
  • The ability to handle advanced math
  • Top-notch mechanical skills
  • Problem-solving abilities

Creativity is also a top quality for mechanical engineers, as the job typically includes designing, creating and modifying complex equipment or machinery. Those who have a good working knowledge of certain software, including 3-D printing, computational design and simulation, could see better job prospects, the BLS reports.

Professional organizations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers offer certifications for those who want to showcase their competency in specific engineering fields. Since the fields of engineering are constantly growing and changing, keeping up with new technology, computer software and advancements in their specific area is a must for those who want to advance in their engineering career.

Sources:

American Society of Mechanical Engineers,
https://www.asme.org/

What is Mechanical Engineering?, The Fu Foundation of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University,
http://me.columbia.edu/what-mechanical-engineering

What Do Mechanical Engineers Do?, Stony Brook University, State University of New York,
http://me.eng.sunysb.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58:what-do-mechanical-engineers-do&Itemid=83

Occupational Employment and Wages: Mechanical Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/OES/current/oes172141.htm

Mechanical Engineers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm#tab-1

Working as a Mechanical Engineer, University of Texas,
http://www.me.utexas.edu/about/work.php