What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineers play an important role in the automotive, aerospace, biotechnology, computer and electronics, automation, and manufacturing industries. They design, develop, build, and test all sorts of mechanical devices, tools, engines and machines.

Mechanical engineers are able to design and manufacture everything from small parts like miniature connectors, to large machine tools like drill presses. They take a product from start to finish, and design for aesthetics, functionality, and durability.

Examples of products that mechanical engineers can design and develop are: transmissions; engine parts; aircraft engines; control systems; prosthetic devices; disk drives; printers; semiconductor tools; sensors; gas turbines; wind turbines; fuel cells; compressors; robots; and machine tools.

What does a Mechanical Engineer do?

Mechanical engineering emerged as a field during the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the 18th century; however, its development can be traced back several thousands of years around the world. It is perhaps the most diverse of engineering disciplines.

It is the branch of engineering that involves the design, production, and operation of machinery by applying physics, engineering, mathematics, and materials science principles.

Three mechanical engineers developing and testing a mechanical tool.

Mechanical engineering is seen in areas such as composites, mechatronics, and nanotechnology, and often overlaps with manufacturing engineering, metallurgical engineering, civil engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, and other engineering disciplines to varying amounts.

In order to design and manufacture mechanical systems, mechanical engineers need to have a deep understanding of mechanics, dynamics, thermodynamics, electricity, and structural analysis. They also need to be able to use computers, CAD (computer-aided design), and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) to produce and analyze their designs, as well as to monitor the quality of products.

In today's world, computers have changed how mechanical engineers do their job, allowing complex analyses to be completed in a matter of seconds versus the days or weeks of hand calculations that were once the norm. However, mechanical engineers will still use industrial production equipment, material-handling systems, and electric generators to produce a fully refined product, and using calculus and trigonometry is needed when confronted with the more complex and analytical portions of the occupation.

Mechanical engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help solve the problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical devices, creating blueprints so the device can be built
  • Develop a prototype of the device and test the prototype
  • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process

Mechanical engineers use many types of tools, engines, and machines, such as:

  • Electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines
  • Power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning
  • Industrial production equipment, including robots used in manufacturing
  • Other machines inside buildings, such as elevators and escalators
  • Machine tools and tools for other engineers
  • Material-handling systems

The following are examples of different types of mechanical engineers:

Automotive Research Engineers
Automotive research engineers try to improve the performance of cars by working to improve traditional features of cars such as suspension, and work on aerodynamics and new possible fuels. Automotive research engineers focus on the development of passenger cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles or off-road vehicles. They design new products, modify existing ones, troubleshoot, and solve engineering problems.

Heating and Cooling Systems Engineers
Heat engineering, also known as heat transfer or thermal sciences, is an academic specialty of mechanical engineering. Heating and cooling systems engineers develop environmental systems (systems that keep temperatures and humidity within certain limits) for airplanes, trains, cars, computer rooms, and schools. They design test control apparatus as well as equipment, and develop procedures for testing products. They also calculate energy losses for buildings, using equipment such as computers, combustion analyzers, or pressure gauges.

Robotics Engineers
A robotics engineer is a behind-the-scenes designer, who is responsible for creating robots and robotic systems that are able to perform duties that humans are either unable or prefer not to complete.

Robotics engineers will spend the majority of their time designing the plans needed to build robots, and will also design the processes necessary for the robot to run correctly. Through their creations, a robotics engineer helps to make jobs safer, easier, and more efficient, particularly in the manufacturing industry.

Materials Engineers
Materials engineers attempt to solve problems in several different engineering fields, such as mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil, nuclear, and aerospace. They do this by developing, processing, and testing materials in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.

Materials engineers study the chemical properties, structures, and mechanical uses of plastics, metals, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), ceramics, and composites according to the place of usage.

Are you suited to be a mechanical engineer?

Mechanical engineers have distinct personalities. They tend to be investigative individuals, which means they’re intellectual, introspective, and inquisitive. They are curious, methodical, rational, analytical, and logical. Some of them are also realistic, meaning they’re independent, stable, persistent, genuine, practical, and thrifty.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if mechanical engineer is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of a Mechanical Engineer like?

Depending on what field of work you go into will depend on what your job will be like. Mechanical engineering is a broad career that deals with mechanical issues, and engineers typically work with mechanical physics, vibrations, forces, rotation, and velocity on a daily basis.

Mechanical engineers can find employment virtually anywhere where innovation takes place, and are sought out by employers within a variety of industries, such as: aerospace, automotive, chemical, construction, defence, electronics, consumer goods, marine, materials and metals, pharmaceuticals, rail, and utilities.

Mechanical engineers can also work in non-engineering types of jobs, both within and outside of the engineering industry. These can be in areas such as: finance, management, law, the military, government, medicine, research, technical sales, technical consulting, technical publishing/science journalism, and teaching.

From developing a prosthetic leg to a new child's toy, a degree in mechanical engineering gives you a diverse choice of industries and projects you can be a part of.

Mechanical engineers generally work in professional office settings. They may occasionally visit work sites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. Most mechanical engineers work full time, with some working as many as 60 hours or more per week.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a good mechanical engineer?

Good mechanical engineers are innovators at heart, and truly enjoy complex problem solving. They have excellent communication skills (both oral and written) and enjoy working with others as team players. They are excited to be on the cutting edge of technology, learning how to make things work more efficiently.

Mechanical engineers feel a sense of accomplishment when turning their ideas into reality and solving problems that better society. They are naturally curious, strong analytical thinkers, innovative, creative, practical, and have a desire to help people and the world around them.

Mechanical engineering involves developing and designing products that solve mechanical problems, typically within challenging timeframes. Often, mechanical engineers develop products for clients who are not familiar with mechanical engineering terminology. They may have to explain complex machines, devices, and ideas to people, therefore strong communication skills are necessary in order to explain things clearly and effectively.

Being a mechanical engineer involves a lot of teamwork and having to collaborate with others. Good communication is needed when taking the lead in mechanical design and manufacturing projects, as it often means working with other professionals that are not mechanical engineers (such as computer scientists and mechanical designers) to invent technologies, draw up blueprints, and solve complex problems.

The following are certain sought-after mechanical engineering skills that make for a good mechanical engineer. Some are soft skills and some are technical skills:

Problem Solver
Analytical Thinker
Detail Oriented
Team Worker
Communicator and Leader
Developer and Tester of Prototypes
Has Excellent Math and Computer Skills
Able To Perform Equipment and System Calculations
Able To Prepare Designs and Estimates
Able To Read and Interpret Drawings and Specifications
Knowledgeable of Machining and Fabrication Processes
Able To Understand Diagrams, Drafts, and Flow-Charts
Able To Develop Project Scope and Timeline
Has Experience With Product Validation
Can Provide Cost Estimates for Materials, Equipment, and/or Labor
Able To Recommend Modifications for Design Improvements
Able To Oversee Project Manufacturing Process
Able To Identify Potential Design Improvements

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What is some good advice for mechanical engineering students?

Becoming a well-rounded student with real work experience and good academic success is what will give you the optimal chance in landing a great engineering job. Note that top jobs will require both good grades and real engineering experience. Every summer that you're in university, make it a top priority to get an internship; there should be opportunities even for first or second year students.

When going to a job interview, be as prepared as possible by reading up on interviewer's techniques and what questions will typically be asked. How you present yourself at the interview is as important as the experience or grades you have. It is recommended to write out notes and study them before every interview, even practicing with a friend if possible.

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What is the difference between a mechanical engineer and a mechanical designer?

While the careers of a mechanical engineer and a mechanical designer are similar in some ways, there are significant differences in responsibilities, educational requirements and salary. For example:

Mechanical engineers design mechanical products, machines, and systems.
Mechanical designers create technical drawings based on the mechanical engineer's specifications and plans.

Mechanical engineers use mathematics and physics in order to determine the best plans and designs for a project.
Mechanical designers use CAD programs (computer aided design) to create detailed drawings.

Mechanical engineers must have at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
Mechanical designers must complete as associate's degree in drafting.

Mechanical engineers are not required to be licensed, however many pursue a professional engineering (PE) license for future advancement.
Mechanical designers are not required to be licensed, however certification is available through The American Drafting Design Association for future advancement.

Job responsibilities of a mechanical engineer include:
- Applying physics, engineering, mathematics, and materials science principles
- Determining how mechanical devices can help to solve a manufacturing problem
- Developing a prototype of the mechanical product
- Analyzing complex tests to determine the reason for components failing in mechanical equipment
- Using blueprints to determine how mechanical systems work with other components
- Overseeing the installation of their mechanical products and systems
- Overseeing the manufacturing process
- Traveling to various manufacturing sites to ensure specifications are followed

Job responsibilities of a mechanical designer include:
- Turning the mechanical engineer's roughly sketched designs into technical drawings
- Designing 3-D models using computer-aided design software
- Adding in any manufacturing procedures to their schematics
- Following specific drafting standards and regulations
- Going over the details and dimensions of each part in the drawing
- Changing drawings based on engineer's feedback
- Redesigning older systems based on efficiency measurements

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Are mechanical engineers happy?

Mechanical Engineers rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 43rd percentile of careers for satisfaction scores.

Please note that the scores below are percentile rankings rather than overall happiness.

Mechanical Engineers are also known as:
Mechanical Design Engineer Chassis Systems Engineer Chassis Engineer