Mechanical engineering is the most popular engineering degree and it’s also the broadest. There are so many career options available to mechanical engineers that it’s important for students to know what type of work interests them most. From robotics, to automotive systems, mechanical design, combustion, transportation systems, the Internet of Things and more, mechanical engineering has a vast scope that’s exciting and presents multiple opportunities for students’ futures.
If you love the idea of making products or systems and bringing a project from an idea to something that’s available for sale in the marketplace, mechanical engineering could be the perfect area for you. As a mechanical engineer, you need to be able to decide which thermal environment and forces a product or a system will experience. You then need to create a successful design that reflects these realities.
To help students learn about mechanical engineering, (and to help students that may be considering it as a major), this blog will cover the definition of mechanical engineering as well as the types of problems they solve, the work they do, and more.
What is mechanical engineering?
Mechanical engineering is a multifaceted area of engineering that involves the study of objects and systems in motion. Because its definition is so broad, mechanical engineers can be found in important roles in a variety of industries including energy conversion, robotics and automation, aerospace, automotive, biotechnology, computers, microelectromechanical systems, manufacturing, and electronics.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 299,200 jobs in mechanical engineering in the U.S. in 2020, which is a healthy number, and the sector is predicted to experience a growth rate of 7%, which is about average, from 2020 to 2030.
As an area of study, mechanical engineering can open up a variety of job opportunities. This area provides students with a solid base of creative thinking skills that can act like a springboard for further study or development through analytics skills and problem solving. From the intense group work, to the use of analytical tools to successfully forward an end goal, and the perseverance needed to succeed, this area can also lead to many other STEM careers in a variety of fields.
What do mechanical engineers do?
Simply put, mechanical engineers design products and systems. Can you imagine living without your refrigerator or central air conditioner? You can thank a mechanical engineer for your health and comfort!
Many of the modern conveniences we rely upon in our daily lives were envisioned, designed, developed, and produced by these engineering professionals.
By definition, mechanical engineers work to design and develop power-producing machines. These include:
- Internal combustion engines
- Steam and gas turbines
- Electric generators
- Power-using machines
- Air conditioning systems
- Refrigeration systems
- Machines inside buildings (elevators and escalators)
As the ultimate puzzlers and problem solvers, mechanical engineers are the important individuals behind designing, developing, constructing, and testing a slew of tools, engines, and mechanical devices found in almost every industry.
As a mechanical engineer you might also work on developing:
- Ventilation systems
- Heat exchangers
- Predictive maintenance and reliability technologies
- Biomedical devices
- All types of transportation vehicles
- Precision machinery
- Virtual reality
Innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs are drawn to the field of mechanical engineering and its great potential.
How to Become a Mechanical Engineer
Mechanical engineers have been key players in the creation and development of modern society, and some of the best in history have honed their skills outside a classroom through trial and error. Today, it’s true that some employers will accept equivalent qualifications based on relevant work experience. The reality is, however, that many will not and pursuing advanced education in mechanical engineering is almost a must if you’re drawn to this field.
The vast majority of mechanical engineers obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in order to learn and advance their careers.
In addition, mechanical engineers often require a license. This is necessary to provide any type of services to the public as a mechanical engineer in any state in the U.S. The requirements for a license typically include:
- An Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) -accredited bachelor’s degree
- Several years of work experience
- The successful completion of two exams
Most entry-level mechanical engineering positions require you to have a bachelor’s degree. For many people, this is a starting point that leads to further study but it can also be an end in itself.
Many professionals working in engineering find that a master’s degree helps them acquire more advanced skills in their field, leading to specialization. This can be particularly true in the areas of robotics and energy. Some people find combining an engineering degree with a degree in another complementary field such as law or business administration gives them a more powerful toolset to apply to their career.
A PhD program isn’t something for everyone but if you find that your curiosity leans towards academia or specified research in certain fields, you might find yourself pursuing a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering.
Many areas of expertise that lie under the general umbrella of mechanical engineering also require additional certification beyond a bachelor’s degree, even if you don’t find yourself pursuing a master’s or a doctoral degree. You might need certification in areas such as integrated manufacturing systems, computer-aided design, and stress analysis. By obtaining additional certification in these fields you can increase your chances of becoming employed at a higher rate of compensation.
What skills do mechanical engineers need to have?
A successful mechanical engineer is in possession of many different types of 21st century skills. As a top-notch problem solver, you’ll often find yourself working in groups under tight deadlines. This means you will need the foster the following:
- Clear communication
- Computer skills
- Commercial awareness
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Technical abilities
As a more experienced mechanical engineer, you may also find yourself managing groups and being able to administer, direct, and lead a project will be additional assets needed for your career.
Sphero’s educational tools and curriculum can help students foster a mechanical engineering mindset in order to get a head start. With STEM programs and STEAM resources for all ages, we help provide the building blocks that can lead to a successful career in mechanical engineering.
Our coding robots give students access to hands-on problem solving experiences, and our design-and-build kits provide unique resources kids can use at home or in the classroom. Engaging lesson ideas bring leading technology to classrooms in ways that develop perseverance and push creative imaginations into new spaces, paving the pathway to new discoveries.
4 Notable Mechanical Engineers
Great mechanical engineers are behind the systems and devices used in our homes, workplaces, and public spaces. They’re everywhere! Some of the most notable names in history associated with this field include:
1. James Watt
How many watts is your light bulb? Yes, that Watt! James Watt was from Scotland and lived in the 18th century as an inventor and maker of instruments, and he is the person behind the unit of power called “the watt”. Watt is famous for not only getting his name on light bulbs worldwide but also for his improvements made on the steam engine. Watt’s developments converted steam back into water creating an efficient system. This led to the possibility for steam engines to be used to operate machines in factories, pushing forth the industrial revolution.
2. Nikola Tesla
Tesla was a Serbian-American engineer and physicist who is famous for inventing the first alternating current (AC) motor. He also developed AC transmission and generation technology.
3. George Stephenson
While it was undoubtedly a team effort, Stephenson is commonly credited as being the principal inventor of the first steam locomotive and is called the “Father of the Railways.”
4. Rudolph Diesel
A German engineer, Diesel invented the internal-combustion engine, which is used to help power vehicles like trains, automobiles, and more.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of famous mechanical engineers and simply gives you a small taste of how this type of engineer has been so important in the development of modern society.