What Do Mechanical Engineers Do?
Mechanical engineering touches every facet of our lives, from the buildings we live and work in to the cars we drive every day. Mechanical engineering even plays a role in the production of the food we eat and the tools we use to cook it.
But what does a mechanical engineer actually do?
“Mechanical engineering is problem solving,” said Jennifer McInnis, a faculty member in Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) mechanical engineering program. “It’s applying science and math and other specific knowledge to design solutions to a problem.”
If you’re wondering where mechanical engineering degree jobs might take you, you could find yourself working across a wide variety of industries, from automotive and construction to information technology, biomedical and manufacturing.
As technology advances, the field continues to grow and offer new and exciting mechanical engineering career paths for skilled and educated workers.
What is Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest categories of engineering, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS).
Mechanical engineers often design machines, from engines and HVAC systems to elevators and escalators. You could also play a key role in the design and manufacture of products ranging from medical devices to automobiles, BLS reports.
Mechanical engineering job descriptions can vary significantly from industry to industry and from business to business, McInnis said, which means there are diverse job opportunities for degree holders.
“You might be working in an analysis role, creating systems, predicting how things will perform or explaining why things behave the way they do,” she said. “Sometimes mechanical engineers are in charge of large systems and thinking about how a lot of factors are working together, while others will design the minute details of a part.”
Similarly, the work environment of a mechanical engineer can also vary. While many mechanical engineers spend their time behind a desk using computer systems to create and analyze designs, others are in the field testing and implementing designs and processes, McInnis said.
What Can You Do with a Mechanical Engineering Degree?
If you're just beginning to research a career in mechanical engineering, you may be wondering if mechanical engineering is hard to get started in and whether it's a competitive field for workers. Engineering does require a strong understanding of math and science, but for students who complete an engineering degree program, there are a growing number of opportunities available.
According to BLS data, employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 5% through 2028, resulting in more than 12,000 new jobs. And because mechanical engineers often work on cutting-edge technologies and industrial pursuits, opportunities will continue to grow as technology evolves.
Earning a mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree is an important first step toward accessing this growing field and is typically a requirement for entry level mechanical engineer jobs, McInnis said. If you’re interested in a specialized area of mechanical engineering or dream of leading a team of engineers, completing a master’s degree program can help set you apart.
One possible master’s degree path for mechanical engineers is to earn a business degree in a field like project management, McInnis said. After years of tough economic factors, staying on schedule and on budget is increasingly important and project managers are in demand, according to a 2018 article from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
With a focus in project management, engineers can use their attention to detail and process design skills to oversee manufacturing, construction or other engineering projects and ensure they are efficient and cost-effective.
Where Do Mechanical Engineers Work?
There are many different types of mechanical engineering jobs you could take on with an engineering degree. So how much do mechanical engineers make and where can they work? Explore the mechanical engineer jobs below to learn more.
- Manufacturing Engineer - Mechanical engineers play a vital role in the success of manufacturing. According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), manufacturing engineers design the machines and technology that create the products we all rely on, from food products and medical devices to appliances and automobiles. According to Glassdoor, manufacturing engineers make an average salary of $68,692.
- Process Engineer - As a process engineer, you’ll specialize in improving the way things are done, according to IME. Process engineers assess mechanical processes to boost efficiency and safety, with opportunities available in industries from water and power supply to the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. According to Glassdoor, process engineers earn an average of $74,822.
- Robotics Engineer - With a career as a robotics engineer, you’ll be responsible for planning, building and maintaining robots, according to BLS. Robotics engineers are responsible for determining how robots will use technology to detect and respond to stimuli, as well as determining how this technology will fit into a robot’s design. Robotics engineers earn an average salary of $75,487, according to Glassdoor.
- Automotive Engineer - As a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry you can have a hands-on role in the design and production of the vehicles we use every day. According to BLS, auto research engineers improve the performance of cars, from the design of suspension systems and aerodynamics to new alternative fuels. According to Glassdoor, automotive engineers earn an average of $72,323.
- Construction Engineer - As a mechanical engineer, you could be responsible for the fine details of a construction project, including the heating, cooling and ventilation systems of a new office building or the delivery of fuel to a new home, according to IME. Construction project engineers earn an average salary of $67,607, according to Glassdoor.
- Biomedical Engineer - Mechanical engineers also work in the biomedical field. Engineers can design and manage the production of life-saving medical equipment including artificial limbs, pacemakers and even robotic surgical assistants, according to IME. According to Glassdoor, biomedical engineers earn an average of $65,779.
Getting Started with a Mechanical Engineering Career
No matter what your ultimate mechanical engineering career goal, there are a couple key ways to set yourself apart from other job seekers.
Finding an internship and completing professional certifications can boost your resume with hands-on professional experience that many employers are looking for, McInnis said. Certification programs offered by ASME and other industry organizations can provide key skills in everything from engineering design software to hazardous waste incinerator operation.
And while hands-on experience and a strong education in math and science are key if you’re interested in the field of mechanical engineering, McInnis said one of the most basic requirements for success is much simpler.
“The most important thing is a curiosity - a willingness to ask why and explore hard questions,” she said.
Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.