Mechanical Engineer

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Summary

Duties: Design improvements for engines, transmissions, and other working parts

Alternate Title(s): Automotive Mechanical Engineer

Salary Range: $30,000 to $94,110 (In USD as of Apr 11, 2015)

Employment Prospects: Fair

Advancement Prospects: Excellent

Best Geographical Location(s): Most jobs in the automotive field are located in Michigan, although automotive plants in other parts of the country also hire Mechanical Engineers

Prerequisites:

Education or Training - A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is required for most entry-level jobs

Experience - A solid background in math and science is helpful

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail-oriented

Licensure/Certification - All 50 states require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public

What Mechanical Engineers Do

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 generally work in office settings to test designs of architects.

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.

CAREER LADDER

Mechanical Engineering Technician >> Mechanical Engineer >> Mechanical Engineering Manager

Position Description

Mechanical Engineers design improvements for engines, transmissions, and other working parts; mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical Engineers apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to research and develop economical solutions to technical problems. They design products, machinery to build those products, and the systems that ensure the quality of the products and efficiency of the workforce and manufacturing process.

Mechanical Engineers consider many factors when developing a new product. For example, in developing an industrial robot, engineers determine precisely what function the robot needs to perform, design and test the robot’s components, fit the components together in an integrated plan, and evaluate the design’s overall effectiveness, cost, reliability, and safety.

Mechanical Engineers are the largest professional occupation in the automotive industry, and play an integral role in all stages of auto manufacturing. Mechanical Engineers oversee the building and testing of the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and other mechanical and electrical components. Using computers and assorted models, instruments, and tools, Mechanical Engineers simulate different parts of a car to determine whether each part meets cost, safety, performance, and quality specifications.

Mechanical engineers develop and build mechanical devices for use in industrial processes.

Mechanical Engineers use computers to accurately and efficiently perform computations and help model and simulate new designs. Mechanical Engineers use Computer- Aided Design (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) for design data processing and to develop alternative designs. New computer and communications systems have improved the design process, enabling Mechanical Engineers to produce and analyze various product designs much more rapidly than in the past and to collaborate on designs with other engineers throughout the world.

Most automotive Mechanical Engineers work in office buildings, industrial plants, and production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve on-site problems Many work a standard 40-hour week, although sometimes deadlines or design problems bring extra pressure to a job. When this happens, Mechanical Engineers may work longer hours and experience considerable stress.

Salaries

The average annual salary of a Mechanical Engineer in the automotive industry ranges from $63,910 to $66,040. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $42,190, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $94,110. According to a 2001 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in mechanical engineering received starting offers averaging $48,426 a year, master’s degree candidates had offers averaging $55,994, and Ph.D. candidates were initially offered $72,096.

Employment Prospects

Employment of Mechanical Engineers is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2012. Although overall manufacturing employment is expected to grow slowly, employment of Mechanical Engineers in auto manufacturing should increase more rapidly as the demand for improved cars grows and industrial machinery and processes become increasingly complex. In addition, the automotive industry is less likely to lay off Mechanical Engineers, since most work on long-term research and development projects or in other activities continue even during economic slowdowns.

The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering began declining in 1987 and has continued to stay at about the same level through much of the 1990s. The total number of graduates from mechanical engineering programs is not expected to increase significantly. Although only a relatively small proportion of Mechanical Engineers leave the profession each year, many job openings will arise from replacement needs as Mechanical Engineers transfer to management, sales, or other professional occupations.

Advancement Prospects

Beginning mechanical engineering graduates usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers and may receive additional seminar-type training. As new

Although they do most of their work in an office setting, mechanical engineers also visit worksites to gain firsthand knowledge of their designs.

Mechanical Engineers get more experience, they are assigned more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Mechanical Engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff or team of engineers and technicians. Some may eventually become engineering managers.

It is important for Mechanical Engineers to continue their education throughout their careers, because their value to their employer depends on their knowledge of the latest technology. By keeping current in their field, Mechanical Engineers are able to deliver the best solutions and greatest value to their employers. Mechanical Engineers who have not kept current in their field may find themselves passed over for promotions

Education and Training

A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for entrylevel mechanical engineering jobs. Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in mechanical engineering, along with courses in both mathematics and science. Most programs include a design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class, or both. Graduate training is essential for many research and development programs, but is not required for most entry-level mechanical engineering jobs.

About 330 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in engineering that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is based on an examination of an engineering program’s student achievement, program improvement, faculty, curricular content, facilities, and institutional commitment. Some programs emphasize industrial practices, preparing students for a job in industry, whereas others are more theoretical and are designed to prepare students for graduate work. Therefore, students should investigate curricula and check accreditations carefully before selecting a college.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), and courses in English, social studies, humanities, and computers.

Bachelor’s degree programs in mechanical engineering typically are designed to last four years, but many students find that it takes between four and five years to complete their studies. In a typical four-year college curriculum, students spend the first two years studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. Students interested in mechanical engineering spend the last two years taking mostly engineering courses with a concentration in mechanical engineering.

Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize in graduate school or on the job. Some engineering schools and two-year colleges have agreements in which the two-year college provides the initial engineering education, and the engineering school auto matically admits students for their last two years. In addition, a few engineering schools have arrangements in which a student spends three years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and two years in an engineering school studying core subjects, receiving a bachelor’s degree from each school.

Some colleges and universities offer five-year master’s degree programs; others offer five- or even six-year cooperative plans that combine classroom study and practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and finance part of their education.

Special Requirements

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called Professional

Mechanical engineers analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help to solve them.

Engineers (PE). This licensure generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a state examination. Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the examination in two stages. The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination can be taken upon graduation; engineers who pass this examination are called Engineers in Training (EIT) or Engineer Interns (EI). The EIT certification is usually valid for 10 years.

After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. Several states have imposed mandatory continuing education requirements for relicensure, but most states recognize licensure from other states. Many Mechanical Engineers are licensed as PEs.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Mechanical Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail-oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well both orally and in writing.

Unions and Associations

Mechanical Engineers can belong to a number of professional organizations, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; some belong to a union, such as the United Auto Workers.

Tips for Entry

1. Visit Web sites to check out job postings for Mechanical Engineers, such as the job board on the Web site of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (www.asme.org/jobs).

2. Mail a résumé to top automotive companies where you would like to work.

3. Attend professional conferences and check out job boards there.

4. Visit your college’s career counseling office for help in identifying companies where you would like to work.

5. Use your contacts. The easiest way to network is to ask someone you already know for the name of someone else. When you call, say, “So-and-so suggested I call you.”

6. Develop electronic networking skills. Visit chat groups or message boards that pertain to your career area. Take special interest in those run by professional associations.

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.

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer

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.

Employment projections data for mechanical engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Mechanical engineers

17-2141 258,100 269,700 5 11,600 [Employment projections.xls]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of mechanical engineers.

Contacts 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

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