Becoming a Mechanical Engineer

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A man standing in front of a truck

Mechanical engineers use a large range of different processes in order to create materials with specific characteristics and precise shapes. They devise and make moving machinery such as engines, pumps, turbines, and lifts, as well as static equipment, such as pipe work and girders. They design, develop, and use equipment that will cut, drill, and shape materials into items that have practical applications.

The Job:

Mechanical engineers are employed throughout the engineering industry and most other manufacturing industries where continuous production takes place. They design parts, preparing drawings and specifications, and supervise their manufacture in the most suitable materials in the workshop.

All types of production processes need their skills. Where an item, such as a turbine or submarine, is being assembled, they design the parts to make up the whole assembly, supervise their manufacture, and manage the construction of the product where it stands.

When an item such as a car or a television monitor is manufactured on a continuous moving-belt system, they engineer both the production system and the item being produced so that they are in harmony with each other. The design, development, and manufacture of production machinery is an area dominated by mechanical engineers.

Robots, for example, may be controlled by electronics and computers, but they are essentially mechanical devices used to move items from place to place, to spray surfaces with paint, or to handle and manipulate parts.

If chemicals or fluids are being made through mixing or reactions, these engineers produce the chemical plant in which the process occurs. They erect the pipes and vats, the filters, pumps, and vessels.

Mechanical engineers have a major part to play in the oil and mining industries. From drilling and tunneling to the design and manufacture of oil rigs, pipelines, pumps, belts, lifts, and heavy cutting machinery all is the work of mechanical engineers.

Most of their work is, therefore, in design or production or the planning and execution of major projects. Not only do they design production machinery they also often work as production engineers to install and then maintain it once it is in operation by the end-user.

The continuous operation of production plant during a shift of work, as well as its maintenance between shifts so that it is ready to continue production, is often the responsibility of mechanical engineers.

In some industries, such as the automobile industry, they are responsible for the quality of the final product and testing it thoroughly prior to delivery to the customer. Mechanical engineers also provide after-sales service in some companies, diagnosing and correcting faults that have arisen and redesigning parts to improve their performance.

The whole process of drilling wells for oil or water is essentially mechanical, and many mechanical engineers are involved in the exploration process within the oil industry often working in remote parts of the world or at sea.

A few engineers find employment in research, investigating novel manufacturing processes, the use of different materials, or ways of improving the economic efficiency of a mechanical system.

Mechanical engineering alone is often not sufficient to solve some of the complex problems that arise in industrial processes. In practice, these engineers also have to learn to use robots, electromechanical devices, and automatic equipment, as well as computer-based systems.

Training Involved:

At least 2 years’ industrial training is required plus further experience in a job with real responsibility to reach the levels of expertise needed for full membership of professional institutions. Training usually includes workshop practice, design experience, and time in development and maintenance departments. A thorough understanding of safety regulations and the practices and philosophy of their employer must be gained at an early stage.

Useful Qualifications to Have:

Useful subjects include: science, electronics, and mathematics.

Salary Expectations:

The base salary range of a Mechanical Engineer ranges from $58,550 to $81,034 annually, while the median salary for most Mechanical Engineers is $69,500 annually. (US Base Pay)

Future Prospects:

Mechanical engineers are employed throughout the engineering and other manufacturing industries, in the armed forces, and in transport of all types. Their skills are sought in so many fields of activity related to productive industry that career prospects are generally good and there is a steady supply of jobs in most parts of the world.

Their work is valued more in countries that have a strong industrial base than in those that rely for their economic activity on service industries. Increasingly, mechanical engineers are expected to work in multidisciplinary teams and gain an understanding of basic electronics and computing, both of which are used to control the operation of mechanical devices.

For further information, contact professional engineering institutions representing the interests of mechanical engineers. Also contact trade associations of engineering industry employers and, in same countries, training institutions.