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What Do Mechanical Engineers Do?

What Does a Mechanical Engineer Do?

Posted By: Brightwood Engineering Education
Updated: August 18, 2017 


An engineering degree can take you in many different directions. To assist you in your decision-making process, let’s take a look at a few things a mechanical engineer does. James Watt, the man known for inventing the first modern steam engine, was a mechanical engineer. Nikola Tesla, the man known for developing alternating current electrical systems, was a mechanical engineer. Even Bill Nye, the man better known as the “Science Guy,” is a mechanical engineer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, there were 278,340 mechanical engineers employed in the United States. The discipline is so broad that it covers a variety of jobs in thousands of companies worldwide, in industries such as aerospace, automotive, energy, electronics, chemical, computers, government, construction, robotics, and even entertainment. These engineers carry out tasks such as designing, developing, building, and testing mechanical and thermal sensors, as well as devices like tools, engines, and machines. Pretty much any machine or process you can think of has been touched by a mechanical engineer at some point.

Maybe you’d like to come up with solutions to current development processes. As a mechanical engineer, you have the potential to work on all stages of product development, from design and manufacturing to installation and final commissioning.

Think about how many industries out there rely on mechanical systems—these are all potential job opportunities. While one mechanical engineer can be tasked with creating bio-medical devices, like mechanical hearts, another may be working in a large oil refinery. Generally speaking, mechanical engineers typically carry out tasks such as:

  • Designing cost-effective equipment
  • Testing and evaluating theoretical designs
  • Solving complex manufacturing problems with suppliers and customers
  • Developing, testing, and evaluating theoretical designs
  • Ensuring reliable product production 
  • Managing projects
  • Planning new production processes
  • Dealing with issues such as cost, safety, and time constraints

Mechanical engineers often find themselves working on power-generating machines, such as internal combustion engines and steam and gas turbines. They might venture into working with power-consuming technology like refrigerators and air conditioners, machine tools, material-handling systems, elevators, industrial production equipment, or manufacturing robots. Other mechanical engineers focus on designing tools that help other engineers do their jobs. And still others opt for a more administrative role or creep into technical sales.

The work day of a mechanical engineer could include tasks such as coming up with efficient ways for machines and engineers to interact, rerouting conveyer belts and reorganizing production steps, maintaining the equipment technicians use to interface with manufacturing equipment, or overseeing one particular part of the manufacturing process. In large organizations, a mechanical engineer might even oversee several production facilities.

But that’s not all. Mechanical engineers can also maintain aircraft, cars, infrastructure, electronic components, military equipment, and railways. For example, if you’re a mechanical engineer who develops complex mechanical systems using 3-D modeling and analysis tools for the defense industry, you could also become involved with mechanical systems like overhead power lines (even though they’re electrical, they still require the help of a mechanical engineer).

Below is a list of things that mechanical engineers play a major role in developing:

  • Automotive: car chassis, engines, transmissions, sensors
  • Aerospace: airplanes, aircraft engines, control systems for airplanes and spacecraft
  • Bio-technology: implants, prosthetic devices, fluidic systems for pharmaceutical industries
  • Computers and electronics: disk drives, printers, cooling systems, semiconductor tools
  • MEMS: sensors, actuators, micro-power generation
  • Energy: gas turbines, wind turbines, solar energy, fuel cells
  • Environmental: HVAC, air-conditioning, refrigeration, compressors
  • Automation: robots
  • Manufacturing: machining, machine tools, prototyping, microfabrication

So, what exactly does a mechanical engineer do? It all depends on the type of mechanical engineer you’d like to be. The one definitive thing we can say about mechanical engineering is…you’ll have plenty of great options within this diverse discipline.

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