The word “engineering” comes from the Latin word ingeniare, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the design and manufacture of complex products.” The definition of “mechanical”, also provided by Webster, is “…of or relating to machinery or tools,” and is derived from the Latin word mechanicus (“of, or belonging to machines”).
If we were to combine these two literal translations, then mechanical engineering would be the designing and manufacturing of complex machinery or tools. Peter Childs, in his book titled Mechanical Design, dislikes a firm definition of mechanical design. He feels that it unnecessarily “sets boundaries on the activity” as mechanical engineering is a very broad field.
So in that case, what’s the best way to define mechanical engineering?
The mechanics of mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineers design and supervise the manufacturing of complex mechanical products such as generators, engines, turbines, refrigeration systems, elevators, product-handling systems, and much more. Some tasks in the mechanical engineering world are to analyze problems and design solutions, design new systems using computer-aid design tools, build and test product prototypes, and eventually monitor the manufacturing process of the design.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that of the 289K engineering jobs in 2016, 22 percent were architectural, engineering, and related services, 13 percent worked in machinery engineering, 12 percent in transportation equipment, with seven percent in both scientific research and electronic technology.
Becoming a mechanical Engineer
To be a mechanical engineer, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some qualities of a good mechanical engineer are creativity, the ability to listen and analyze, excellent math and mechanical skills, and perhaps most importantly, problem-solving skills.
A master’s degree is usually required for career advancement in the engineering field, as it prepares engineers for more complex projects. Some colleges offer programs which allow the student to graduate with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in five years. The next level for a mechanical engineer is to become a professional engineer or PE, which allows engineers to oversee very large and complex projects, manage higher level employees, and provide more services directly to the public.
It would be very expensive for a manufacturer to keep all the necessary engineering talents they need to call on from project to project. Therefore, companies often rely on mechanical engineering staffing agencies to provide the specialized talent that is needed when tackling unique complex R&D, design, and manufacturing projects.
What are the salaries of mechanical engineers?
The above BLS data shows that in 2016, there were 290K mechanical engineering jobs in the US. In 2018, mechanical engineering job’s salaries (based on a 40 hour work week) ranged from $99,870 for scientific R&D work to $80,310 for machinery manufacturing.
The median annual salary for all engineers was $93K. The median for just mechanical engineers was $87K. The median income for all jobs across the spectrum in the US was $38K. The job outlook for mechanical engineers through 2025 looks to be an increase of nine percent, with the highest growth rate in technology fields.
Who needs mechanical engineering?
Simply stated, any entity that builds complex items would need the services of a mechanical engineer. An engineer has the creativity to not only see the end product but envision how to get there. Mechanical engineers are responsible for the design down to the very smallest detail, as well as testing the product as it is developed and during manufacture.
Full-service engineering firms offer a cadre of mechanical design services and products that can take a design from ideation and design, through R&D, prototyping, manufacturing, and testing.