Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Interest Area: 
Thinking
Average Yearly Pay: 
$74920
Education Needed: 
Bachelor's Degree
Job Prospects: 
Good
Job Growth: 
6%

Is this career the right one for you?

Are you a Builder, a Thinker, a Creator, a Helper? Take the Career Surveyor test online and discover which careers are right for you!

Take the Test!

Job Duties: 

Mechanical engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze problems to see how mechanical and thermal devices might help solve the problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical and thermal devices using analysis and computer-aided design
  • Develop and test prototypes of devices they design
  • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device
  • Career Overview: 

    Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

    Duties

    Mechanical engineers typically do the following:

    • Analyze problems to see how mechanical and thermal devices might help solve the problem
    • Design or redesign mechanical and thermal devices using analysis and computer-aided design
    • Develop and test prototypes of devices they design
    • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
    • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device

    Mechanical engineers design and oversee the manufacturing of many products ranging from medical devices to new batteries.

    Mechanical engineers design power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines as well as power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

    Mechanical engineers design other machines inside buildings, such as elevators and escalators. They also design material-handling systems, such as conveyor systems and automated transfer stations.

    Like other engineers, mechanical engineers use computers extensively. Computers help mechanical engineers create and analyze designs, run simulations and test how a machine is likely to work, and generate specifications for parts.

    Work Environment: 

    Mechanical engineers held about 258,100 jobs in 2012. They work mostly in manufacturing industries, architectural and engineering services, and research and development. 

    The industries employing the most mechanical engineers in 2012 were as follows:

    Architectural, engineering, and related services 22%
    Machinery manufacturing 14
    Transportation equipment manufacturing 13
    Computer and electronic product manufacturing 8
    Fabricated metal product manufacturing 6

    The rest are employed in general-purpose machinery manufacturing, automotive parts manufacturing, and testing laboratories. 

    Mechanical engineers generally work in professional office settings. They may occasionally visit worksites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. In most settings, they work with other engineers, engineering technicians, and other professionals as part of a team.

    Work Schedules

    Most mechanical engineers work full time, and about one-third worked more than 40 hours a week in 2012.

    Education and Training: 

    Mechanical engineers need a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree is typically needed to conduct research. Mechanical engineers who sell services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia.

    Education

    Nearly all entry-level mechanical engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology.

    Mechanical engineering degree programs usually include courses in mathematics and life and physical sciences, as well as engineering and design courses. Mechanical engineering technology programs focus less on theory and more on the practical application of engineering principles. Programs typically last 4 years, but many students take between 4 and 5 years to earn a degree. Mechanical engineering degree programs may emphasize internships and co-ops to prepare students for work in industry.

    Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs that allow students to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study with practical work, enabling students to gain valuable experience and earn money to finance part of their education.

    ABET accredits programs in mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology. Most employers prefer to hire students from an accredited program. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.

    Important Qualities

    Creativity. Mechanical engineers design and build complex pieces of equipment and machinery. A creative mind is essential for this kind of work.

    Listening skills. Mechanical engineers often work on projects with other engineers and professionals, such as architects. They must listen to and analyze different approaches to the task at hand.

    Math skills. Mechanical engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

    Mechanical skills. Mechanical skills allow engineers to apply basic engineering concepts and mechanical processes to the design of new devices.

    Problem-solving skills. Mechanical engineers take scientific discoveries and seek to make them into products that would be useful to people, companies, and governments. Experience gained through laboratory courses at university or a cooperative education program in college helps mechanical engineers develop skills that are useful in solving real-world problems.

    Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

    All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Licensed mechanical engineers are designated as professional engineers (PEs). The PE license generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, 4 years of relevant work experience, and passing a state exam.

    Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the exam in two stages. They can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam prior to or right after graduation. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After gaining experience, EITs can take a second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, for full licensure as a PE.

    Several states require engineers to take continuing education to renew their licenses every year. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the other state’s licensing requirements meet or exceed their own licensing requirements.

    Professional organizations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, offer a variety of certification programs for engineers to demonstrate competency in specific fields of mechanical engineering.

    Advancement

    Graduate education is essential for engineering faculty positions in higher education, as well as for some research and development programs. Many experienced mechanical engineers earn graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education and enhance their project management skills. Many become administrators or managers after obtaining a graduate degree.

    Pay: 

    The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $80,580 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,030, and the top 10 percent earned more than $121,530.

    In May 2012, the median annual wages for mechanical engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:

    Computer and electronic product manufacturing $84,860
    Architectural, engineering, and related services 84,030
    Transportation equipment manufacturing 83,540
    Machinery manufacturing 72,270
    Fabricated metal product manufacturing 69,890

    Most mechanical engineers work full time, and about one-third worked more than 40 hours a week in 2012.

    Job Outlook: 

    Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Job prospects may be best for those who stay informed regarding the most recent advances in technology. Mechanical engineers can work in many industries and on many types of projects. As a result, their growth rate will differ by the industries that employ them.

    Mechanical engineers should experience faster than average growth in architectural, engineering, and related services as companies continue to contract work from these firms. Mechanical engineers will also remain involved in various manufacturing industries—specifically, transportation equipment and machinery manufacturing. They will be needed to design the next generation of vehicles and vehicle systems, such as hybrid-electric cars and clean diesel automobiles. Machinery will continue to be in demand as machines replace more expensive human labor in various industries. This phenomenon in turn should drive demand for mechanical engineers who design industrial machinery.

    Mechanical engineers are projected to experience faster than average growth in oil and gas extraction because of their knowledge and skills regarding thermal energy.

    Mechanical engineers often work on the newest industrial pursuits. The fields of alternative energies, remanufacturing, and nanotechnology may offer new opportunities for occupational growth. Remanufacturing—rebuilding goods for use in a second life—holds promise because it reduces the cost of waste disposal. Training in remanufacturing may become common in mechanical engineering programs at colleges and universities.

    Nanotechnology, which involves manipulating matter at the tiniest levels, may affect employment for mechanical engineers because they will be needed to design production projects based on this technology. Nanotechnology will be useful in areas such as designing more powerful computer chips and in healthcare.

    Job Prospects

    Although prospects for mechanical engineers overall are expected to be good, they will be best for those with training in the latest software tools, particularly for computational design and simulation. Such tools allow engineers and designers to take a project from the conceptual phase directly to a finished product, eliminating the need for prototypes. Along those lines, students who can take courses in 3-D printing will also improve their job prospects.

    For More Information: 

    For more information about general engineering education and mechanical engineering career resources, visit

    American Society of Mechanical Engineers

    American Society for Engineering Education

    Technology Student Association

    For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

    ABET

    For more information about licensure as a mechanical engineer, visit

    National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

    National Society of Professional Engineers

    Share your thoughts

    The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
    All comments are moderated. Please be courteous. Spammers will be fried and served on toast.