Mechanical engineering follows closely behind civil engineering as one of the first engineering disciplines. Its insights and advances gave rise to the Industrial Revolution. Even in a technological landscape dominated by circuits and lines of code, mechanical components and the engineers who design them remain invaluable.
Mechanical engineers are found in a broad range of settings – from helping a local factory install new automation machinery to designing rovers for NASA. Almost any product or device that you can think of likely passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer at some point in its development.
The field of mechanical engineering is expected to grow 7% through 2030, which is about equal to the average for all engineering disciplines.
How hard is it to become a mechanical engineer?
Engineering degrees are widely regarded as some of the more difficult to earn. However, the fact that a bachelor’s degree is all that you need to pursue most mechanical engineering jobs makes up for a lot of this difficulty. It is also worth noting that difficulty is a subjective measurement. If you are skilled at mathematics, problem-solving, and applied sciences, you may not find mechanical engineering to be all that difficult.
How long does it take to get started in mechanical engineering?
A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering typically takes 4 years to earn. Recent graduates qualify for entry-level positions. Following 4 years of work experience, engineers become eligible for the PE exam and professional licensure.
The original “Renaissance Man”, Leonardo da Vinci, was a mechanical engineer (among other things). He conceptualized inventions that were far beyond the technological capabilities of his age, including helicopters, calculators, and the use of concentrated solar power.
Qualities and skills of a mechanical engineer
The following are some important traits and abilities shared by mechanical engineers.
Critical thinking and problem solving
Problem solving comprises the large majority of what mechanical engineers do on a daily basis and is a critical skill for passing mechanical engineering courses.
Advanced mathematics is utilized by mechanical engineers in all industries. Earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering also requires you to pass a number of mathematics courses, including calculus I-III, as well plenty of engineering and science courses that entail advanced mathematics.
Mechanical engineers are far less involved with computers and programming than electrical or computer engineers, but it is part of the job at times. In addition to working with computer-aided design (CAD) software, mechanical engineers are also sometimes required to carry out light programming. You may need to pass at least 1 programming course to earn a mechanical engineering degree.
Written and oral presentation skills
Mechanical engineers spend a lot of their time preparing documents and presentations, so adequate writing skills are a must. Good oral presentation skills can likewise be of benefit.
Whether you are designing new products or coming up with innovative solutions to engineering challenges, mechanical engineering requires a creative mind.
Decision-making and leadership skills
After a good deal of experience, many mechanical engineers find themselves in leadership positions. Working your way up to these high-paying roles takes sound decision-making and leadership capabilities.
Where do mechanical engineers work?
Given that mechanical engineering is arguably the broadest engineering discipline, it is no surprise that mechanical engineers can be found in a wide range of settings in virtually every industry.
Regardless of where they are employed, mechanical engineers spend the bulk of their time in office settings. Computer-aided design and analysis, document preparation, component procurement, and project facilitation are common tasks they perform. Some mechanical engineering jobs entail a lot of fieldwork. For example, a mechanical engineer that works for a custom automation firm producing robots for factories may spend much of their time on the road helping clients set up machines.
What types of mechanical engineering jobs are there?
The title mechanical engineer encompasses a variety of positions and job descriptions. A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering can also qualify you for a number of related jobs, including aerospace engineer, mechanical design engineer, robotics engineer, and HVAC engineer.
Engineering positions are categorized according to a grading system that describes levels of experience and responsibility. Entry-level jobs are often labeled graduate or intern. From there, engineers typically progress through 6 levels, with each subsequent level involving greater decision-making and leadership responsibilities.
Mechanical engineers design, test, and develop both power-producing and power-using machines. With that said, the exact job description of a mechanical engineer can take a variety of different forms. Many mechanical engineers work on industrial equipment and systems, while others play a central role in developing commercial products.
Mechanical engineers are charged with tasks such as interpreting and preparing technical reports, developing and coordinating the production of prototypes and final products, and working to research, design, and maintain mechanical equipment.
How to become
Working as a mechanical engineer requires a bachelor of science in engineering, a bachelor of mechanical engineering, or a related degree such as petroleum engineering or aerospace engineering.
Aerospace engineers design, develop, and maintain aerospace equipment such as planes, satellites, spacecraft, and missiles as well as the various systems and components that make these machines possible. The responsibilities and day-to-day tasks of an aerospace engineer are quite similar to those of a mechanical engineer aside from an emphasis on aerospace machines and systems.
Aerospace engineers perform tasks such as preparing and interpreting technical reports, overseeing the production of aerospace equipment, and researching, designing, and maintaining aerospace equipment.
How to become
Aerospace engineering positions can be pursued by those with a bachelor of science in engineering, a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, or bachelor’s in aerospace engineering.
Mechanical design engineerMedian salary: $73K
Mechanical design engineering focuses on turning rough designs into detailed technical documents to be used for the development of prototypes. Mechanical designers work alongside mechanical engineers to turn their rough sketches into technical documents and 3D models via CAD software.
Robotics engineerMedian salary: $85K
Robotics engineers work to design, develop, install, and maintain robotic machines. Robotics engineers are heavily employed in the custom automation industry, developing robots for industrial purposes. However, robotics engineers can be employed by any company that develops robots for internal uses as well as companies that create and sell commercial products that feature robotic elements.
Heating and cooling systems (HVAC) engineerMedian salary: $69K
HVAC engineers work to design HVAC systems for large commercial or residential buildings and ensure that those systems are installed correctly. Often confused with an HVAC technicians, HVAC engineers are not responsible for manually installing HVAC systems but are instead tasked with design processes to ensure that HVAC systems are optimized for a particular site.
The printing press is widely considered one of the most important contributions of mechanical engineering.
How do you become a mechanical engineer?
Earning your engineering bachelor’s degree is the first crucial step. The number of steps you take from there will depend on your interests and aspirations.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering
The first requirement for working as a mechanical engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. A more general bachelor of science in engineering is another possible route. If you are already sure of your future career path, it may be beneficial to choose a specialized degree such aerospace or petroleum engineering.
Step 2: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam [optional]
After graduating with a bachelor’s in engineering, you have the option to take the FE exam. Passing this exam is a requirement if you plan to someday take the PE exam and get your license as a professional engineer. Passing the FE may also make your resume more attractive to potential employers.
Step 3: Earn work experience as a mechanical engineer
Regardless of whether or not you take the FE exam, the next important step on your career path is building work experience. The most important factor in determining which job level you qualify for is how much experience you have. Upon graduating, you are likely only going to qualify for graduate-level or intern positions. With a year or 2, you can qualify for Engineer 1 positions.
Step 4: Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam [optional]
After passing the FE and compiling at least 4 years of work experience, mechanical engineers qualify to take the PE exam. Passing the PE is required to become a licensed Professional Engineer in your state. Engineering licensure allows you to perform a variety of functions such as signing off on schematics before production or reviewing technical content for accuracy. Advertising engineering services to the public also requires PE licensure, as do many government jobs.
Step 5: Become a licensed Professional Engineer [optional]
The Professional Engineer license is administered at state level, but the PE exam is a universal requirement.
Step 6: Complete a master’s in mechanical engineering [optional]
A bachelor’s degree in engineering, licensure, and appropriate work experience are typically sufficient to pursue most mechanical engineering positions. Aside from benefitting your resume, earning a master’s degree may be required for certain leadership or research and development roles.
Step 7: Complete a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering [optional]
A Ph.D. in mechanical engineering is usually sought by those wishing to teach at the college or university level or undertake advanced research.
Do mechanical engineers work on electric cars?
Yes, the electric vehicle industry needs many types of engineers, including mechanical engineers. The design and testing of mechanical components used in electric cars is carried out by mechanical engineers.
Do I need a PE license to be a mechanical engineer?
A PE license is not a requirement to work as a mechanical engineer, but it can benefit your career. Many higher-level positions require PE licensure, as do most government jobs and offering services to the public.
How much do mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering overlap?
There is a large degree of overlap between mechanical and aerospace engineering, as well as some important differences. Aerospace engineers, for instance, work with electrical and computer systems more frequently than mechanical engineers. It may be easier to do aerospace engineering with a mechanical engineering degree than vice versa, because a mechanical engineering degree offers a broader education.
Can I become a mechanical engineer with a civil engineering degree?
Although mechanical and civil engineers both work with principles drawn from physics, mathematics, mechanics, and other sciences, they apply them to very different purposes. Mechanical engineers design tools and mechanical devices, whereas civil engineers focus on large infrastructure projects. For this reason, becoming a mechanical engineer may be rather difficult, though not impossible, with a civil engineering degree.
Established in 1880, ASME exists to help its members network and share ideas with colleagues in the mechanical engineering industry. ASME also provides a broad range of resources helpful to those at all stages of a mechanical engineering career.
The NCEES website provides information on the FE and PE exams and engineering licensure.
Established in 1847, IMechE provides its mechanical engineer members with industry updates, a range of useful resources, and opportunities to engage and network with one another.