Most people have some conception of a mechanical engineer, but unfortunately, that conception is wrong more often than not. Mechanical engineers are trained to design, build, maintain and improve power-producing equipment, which means they do much more than play with simple machines all day. Often, their projects directly impact the efficiency of a machine or system, which in turn can impact how workers perform tasks or how entire cities function.
Mechanical engineering can make a sizeable effect on the world at large, so if you are considering choosing this path for your career, you should know exactly what you are getting into in terms of daily tasks, salary and benefits and opportunities for employment.
The Responsibilities of a Mechanical Engineer
Typically, engineering is straightforward in its naming conventions: Electrical engineers work with electricity and electrical systems while materials engineers develop and utilize new materials. The same pattern holds true for mechanical engineers, who design, create, operate and maintain mechanical devices and systems.
Specifically, mechanical engineers (MEs) are concerned with power — the generation and use of it. The projects MEs complete are almost exclusively for products that either create or consume energy. Some examples of this include internal combustion engines and steam turbines as well as air-conditioning systems, elevators and, increasingly, robots. Often, mechanical engineers work on teams with other types of engineers to complete a project, but MEs are focused on ensuring the machine functions effectively and efficiently.
The daily responsibilities of a mechanical engineer depend on that engineer’s employer, position and current project. For example, an ME manager employed in the manufacturing industry to improve efficiency of factory equipment has a vastly different job description than an entry-level ME in the aerospace industry helping to design air- or spacecraft. Mechanical engineering jobs are exceedingly diverse, but generally, mechanical engineers will employ principles of mathematics, physics and other sciences to solve problems and accomplish goals.
What Mechanical Engineers Earn
Mechanical engineers aren’t only some of the highest paid engineers; they are also some of the highest earning professionals, especially in their early career. Straight from undergraduate degree programs, MEs can command salaries of roughly $64,700. You might compare this to the national average entry-level salary of about $49,800 and recognize the value of pursuing such a well-paying field.
Earning prospects for MEs only improve as their careers progress. Mid-career salaries reach higher than $76,600, and many peak-career mechanical engineers eventually boast earnings of over $90,000 per year. Experience and seniority affect ME income, so remaining in the field and at the same employer can boost your salary.
Where Mechanical Engineers Find Work
Growth in mechanical engineering is keeping pace with the national average, at 9 percent new positions each year, meaning there should be plenty of opportunities for employment after you graduate with your ME degree. As mentioned above, mechanical engineers are in demand across industries and even within different fields of engineering. Still, you will have the best luck finding high-paying openings in the following fields:
The automotive industry is changing rapidly to keep up with expectations for the future. Automobile manufacturers employ mechanical engineers to redesign engines and other systems within cars to enhance efficiency or capitalize on other types of energy besides gas. Further, mechanical engineers work in automotive manufacturing, designing robots and other equipment to streamline the construction of automobiles.
Aerospace engineers are hardly more than mechanical engineers who primarily focus on flight. The aerospace industry designs and builds aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, missiles and nearly any other device that can take flight. MEs in this field design and test prototypes for new components in flying machines. They might also assist in the building of such machines by developing aerospace manufacturing equipment.
The petroleum industry finds and extracts oil and gas as safely and efficiently as possible. MEs who work for oil and gas companies design and construct the equipment used to obtain the valuable substances. Often, MEs in this field work on-site, assessing a specific gas or oilfield’s needs and developing repairs or new strategies for ineffective machines.
Why Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical engineering, like other engineering fields, works to solve problems creatively and resourcefully. Thus, MEs face new challenges every day, allowing them to utilize different skills and engage their brains in ways other professions discourage. Furthermore, mechanical engineering helps to improve the world by improving efficiency. Without mechanical engineering, humans would lack many of the machines that bring us comfort and safety in the modern age, and the mechanical engineers of today promise an even better tomorrow.