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Mechanical Engineer

Job Outlook: 4% (As fast as average)

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What Mechanical Engineers Do About this section

Mechanical engineers
Computer technology helps mechanical engineers create and analyze designs.

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and 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 a particular problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical and thermal devices or subsystems, using analysis and computer-aided design
  • Investigate equipment failures or difficulties to diagnose faulty operation and to recommend remedies
  • Develop and test prototypes of devices they design
  • Analyze the test results and change the design or system as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering fields. Mechanical engineers design and oversee the manufacture of many products ranging from medical devices to new batteries.

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. Mechanical engineers are routinely responsible for the integration of sensors, controllers, and machinery. Computer technology helps mechanical engineers create and analyze designs, run simulations and test how a machine is likely to work, interact with connected systems, and generate specifications for parts.

The following are examples of types of mechanical engineers:

Auto research engineers seek to improve the performance of cars. These engineers work to improve traditional features of cars such as suspension, and they also work on aerodynamics and new possible fuels.

Heating and cooling systems engineers work to create and maintain environmental systems wherever temperatures and humidity must be kept within certain limits. They develop such systems for airplanes, trains, cars, schools, and even computer rooms.

Robotic engineers plan, build, and maintain robots. These engineers plan how robots will use sensors for detecting things based on light or smell, and they design how these sensors will fit into the designs of the robots.

Work Environment About this section

Mechanical engineers
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 held about 316,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of mechanical engineers were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 20%
Machinery manufacturing 14
Transportation equipment manufacturing 11
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 7
Scientific research and development services 6

Mechanical engineers generally work in offices. 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 some work more than 40 hours a week.

How to Become a Mechanical Engineer About this section

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

Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Mechanical engineers who sell services publicly must be licensed in all states and the District of Columbia.

Education

Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Mechanical engineering programs usually include courses in mathematics and life and physical sciences, as well as engineering and design. Mechanical engineering technology programs focus less on theory and more on the practical application of engineering principles. They 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 engineering and 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 others, such as architects and computer scientists. They must listen to and analyze different approaches made by other experts to complete the task at hand.

Math skills. Mechanical engineers use the principles of calculus, statistics, and other advanced subjects 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 and systems.

Problem-solving skills. Mechanical engineers need good problem-solving skills to take scientific principles and discoveries and use them to design and build useful products.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a mechanical engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

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.

Several professional organizations offer a variety of certification programs for engineers to demonstrate competency in specific fields of mechanical engineering.

Other Experience

During high school students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school.

Advancement

A Ph.D. is essential for engineering faculty positions in higher education, as well as for some research and development programs. Mechanical engineers may earn graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology, broaden their education, and enhance their project management skills. Mechanical engineers may become administrators or managers after gaining work experience.

Pay About this section

Mechanical Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2019

Engineers

$94,500

Mechanical engineers

$88,430

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $88,430 in May 2019. 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 $57,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $138,020.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for mechanical engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $101,780
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 95,260
Architectural, engineering, and related services 90,560
Transportation equipment manufacturing 90,350
Machinery manufacturing 80,720

Most mechanical engineers work full time and some work more than 40 hours a week.

Job Outlook About this section

Mechanical Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Mechanical engineers

4%

Engineers

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. 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 are projected to experience growth in engineering services as companies continue to contract work from these firms. Mechanical engineers will also remain involved in various manufacturing industries, particularly in automotive manufacturing. These engineers will play key roles in improving the range and performance of hybrid and electric cars. However, employment declines in some manufacturing industries will temper overall employment growth of mechanical engineers.

Job Prospects

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.

Mechanical engineering students who can learn to create virtual simulations before proceeding to the design, build, and test stages might find themselves in high demand by companies because these skills will allow firms to reduce product development cycles.

Engineers who have experience or training in three-dimensional printing also will have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for mechanical engineers, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Mechanical engineers

17-2141 316,300 328,700 4 12,400 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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 information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering Education Service Center

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

For information about certification, visit

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

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