What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Source: American Society of Mechanical Engineers (www.asme.org)

Think about what you did today. Did you switch on a light, turn on a tap, flush a toilet, open a door, take an elevator or escalator, travel in a bus, train, plane, or car, or use a computer? A mechanical engineer influenced every one of these activities.

Mechanical engineers are concerned with the principles of motion, energy and force. Generally, a machine converts one form of movement into another. It is the responsibly of engineers to design machines whose parts and assemblies function in a safe and reliable, efficient and predictable fashion.

In the words of one author, the mechanical engineer applies scientific methods to the solution of mechanical problems. Indeed, the numerous laws and principles developed by scientists are the everyday tools of the mechanical engineer. Anything the engineer does that is related to the motion and dynamics of heat, gas, air, fluids, and solid materials requires the understanding and application of science.

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Mechanical Engineers Make a Difference…

Mechanical engineers contribute to many industries and occupations, encompassing many specialties. Some mechanical engineers work in areas not usually considered to require engineering. Efforts to clean up and preserve the earth’s environment have attracted many mechanical engineers to projects involving the treatment of water, soil and waster material. Mechanical engineers also work alongside physicians, therapists and other medical professionals to investigate the workings of the human body and to design aids and instruments for medicine. Other mechanical engineers work closely with trainers, coaches and athletes on the design of sporting equipment.

Mechanical engineers design advanced materials and structures to meet the demands of supersonic and hypersonic space travel. They work in the nuclear energy field on the design of electrical power plans equipped with reactors, pressure piping, heat exchanges and other specializes components. In the automobile industry, mechanical engineers design the various parts of a car; and in the manufacturing companies, they develop computer systems that improve and accelerate the production process.

It would be hard to find an area or object in everyday life that was not in some way affected by a mechanical engineer.

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What a Mechanical Engineer Does…

The work of the mechanical engineer is multi-disciplinary. Indeed, many of today’s competitive manufacturing companies are training their mechanical engineers to be knowledgeable about product assembly, pricing, sales and marketing, and merchandising so the engineers can integrate these and other issues into the design function.

Often, mechanical engineers work with other engineers to develop different parts of a large project. For example, mechanical engineers work hand in hand with chemical, civil, and electrical engineers. Chemical engineers focus on the composition of materials; civil engineers design solid structures; electrical engineers integrate the electric components; and mechanical engineer provide various moving parts and subassemblies to bring projects to fruition.

The next time you travel, whether by land, sea or air, remember that a mechanical engineer contribute to your journey. Mechanical engineers work in all areas of transportation, from the design and development to the manufacturing and installation of the vehicle.

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Mechanical Engineering Yesterday and Today…

Mechanical engineering has evolved over the centuries. The millwright, the ancestor of the mechanical engineer, worked in the early iron smelters, textile mills and forges. And while some millwrights displayed great technical ingenuity in tool making and other tasks (becoming legends in their communities and in industry) they basically performed work that required few specialized skills and no formal education.

Today, mechanical engineering is a profession that requires specific skills acquired through education and training. It begins in high school, where students enroll in certain courses to prepare them for acceptance into engineering programs at a college or university. The emphasis at the high school level is on mathematics. Two years of algebra are generally required, as are course in geometry and trigonometry. Calculus is strongly recommended.

High school students should also take one year each of chemistry and physics, including laboratory work in both courses, and four years of English.

Beyond the core requirements, high school students are encourages to take biology, mechanical drawing/drafting and computer courses. The study of a foreign language is highly recommended, as today’s global economy is creating exciting engineering career opportunities in countries around the world.

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How To Enhance Your High School Portfolio…

There are activities outside the classroom for students interested in engineering careers. High school clubs are an excellent opportunity to join together with students of likeminded interests and aspirations. Clubs also provide career preparation, as many of today’s engineering professionals work in teams or groups. Some high school clubs sponsor day trips to companies, where students can see engineers in actual work environments.

High school students team with engineers from companies to build robots which compete in such Sports-like events as FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

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College for the Mechanical Engineering Students…

Many community colleges offer pre-engineering degree programs from which one may transfer to a university to earn a 4-year degree in mechanical engineering.

Universities offer 4-year programs in mechanical engineering. Students study advanced mathematics, calculus, chemistry and physics among the core courses. They are also required to develop proficiency in using a computer. By their junior year, college students take specialized mechanical engineering courses including, fluid dynamics, materials science, robotics, manufacturing processes, thermodynamics and heat transfer, and environmental science. Mechanical engineering students also learn about computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and they get involved in authentic design projects.

Many mechanical engineers go on to enter masters or doctoral programs, which in addition to continued classroom study, including such activities as laboratory research and computational analysis.

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What Employers Expect…

Most companies hiring mechanical engineers expect candidates to have bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

Today, more and more companies are requiring employees to pursue advanced degrees, particularly if the employee manages research, design, and development projects. For those supervising and entire department, a combination of degrees and courses in engineering, accounting and business is recommended. Those who teach usually have doctorates.

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Where Mechanical Engineers Work…

Mechanical engineers work in industry, consulting practices, universities and government research. The vast majority is employed in industry at equipment manufacturers, aerospace companies, utilities, material processing plants, transportation companies, petroleum companies and a host of other large and small firms. Job functions and responsibilities range from basic research and systems design to power plant operations and quality control. Some mechanical engineers cross over into corporate sales and management positions that require scientific and technical skills and expertise.

The consulting side of the business offers mechanical engineers career opportunities in large and small engineering service firms and in private practice. Some engineers start a consulting practice later in life, often following long careers with a corporation. The love of teaching and desire to influence future generations of engineers motivate some mechanical engineers to academic careers. Engineers in colleges and universities serve other roles besides that of instructor or tutor. They direct important research activities, manage laboratories, develop curricula, and write and publish books and technical papers.

Mechanical engineers involved in government research contribute to key policy decisions regarding technology development and use. For example, engineers working with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation and other agencies conduct research into solar energy, advanced materials, radioactive waste removal, magnetic-levitation trains and space missions to Mars- research that will have a direct impact on business and people’s lives in the years ahead.

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Working Conditions…

Working conditions vary as much as specialties within the mechanical engineering profession. Researchers usually work in such areas as industry, government and education. Sales engineers often travel, and academics teach in classrooms and pursue scholarly research. Many mechanical engineers work in industrial plants and at various engineering sites. Others have office jobs that require mechanical engineers to solve complex engineering and mathematical problems.Earnings of a Mechanical Engineer…

Mechanical engineer’s earnings compare favorable with those of other professional people. A starting engineer with a bachelor’s degree may earn $40,000 per year. The median salary for an engineer is over $65,000. Earnings depend on experience and training. The government tends to pay its engineers slightly less than the going rate in private industry. Large companies that employ mechanical engineers usually offer complete benefit packages. They generally include health insurance, life insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacations and holidays, and travel expenses.

Large companies also may offer some form of profit sharing. Some employers require their engineers to pursue advanced degrees. And all or part of the tuition costs for job-related courses may be paid by the company.

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Lifelong Learning…

It is critical for mechanical engineers to continue the educational process beyond college graduation. Technology changes at a rapid pace. In the years following graduation, the mechanical engineer will discover some skills and methodologies learned in college become obsolete.

To stay abreast of new developments in the field, mechanical engineers join professional societies, read trade journals, attend national and international conferences, and enroll in professional (P.E.) refresher courses and professional development programs.

Professional societies play an important role in getting information to the mechanical engineer. ASME International (The American Society of mechanical Engineers), which has a membership of 125,000 individuals, including 24,000 students, holds conferences, publishes journals and sponsors short courses covering a broad range of mechanical engineering fields. Mechanical engineers who join professional societies gain a competitive edge, enhance their knowledge and technical expertise, and acquire leadership skills.

Other professional societies to which mechanical engineers belong include: the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning (AAS), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). These are just a few of the professional affiliations available to mechanical engineers.

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