Mechanical Engineering – What Is It? / What Mechanical Engineers Do?


Mechanical engineers design and develop everything you think of as a machine – from supersonic fighter jets to bicycles to toasters. And they influence the design of other products as well – shoes, light bulbs and even doors. Many mechanical engineers specialize in areas such as manufacturing, robotics, automotive/transportation and air conditioning. Others cross over into other disciplines, working on everything from artificial organs to the expanding field of nanotechnology. And some use their mechanical engineering degree as preparation for the practice of medicine and law. The mechanical engineer may design a component, a machine, a system or a process. Mechanical engineers will analyze their design using the principles of motion, energy, and force to insure the product functions safely, efficiently, reliably, and can be manufactured at a competitive cost.

Mechanical engineers  work in the automotive, aerospace, chemical, computer, communication, paper, and power generation  industries. Mechanical engineers will be found in virtually any manufacturing industry. Increasingly, mechanical engineers are needed in the environmental and bio-medical fields. Indeed virtually every product or service in modern life has probably been touched in some way by a mechanical engineer.

Design and Dynamic Systems Area

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This area emphasizes modeling and control of dynamic processes in engineering systems. Current research activity is in engineering acoustics and noise control, NVH, vibrations and modal analysis, system modeling and identification, control systems, system dynamics, computer simulation of material-forming processes, off-line programming of robots, automobile crashworthiness, computer-aided strain analysis, software sensor development, optimal control of automated manufacturing, application of artificial intelligence in interactive design software, environmentally conscious design, and design of orthotic devices for gait rehabilitation.

Energy Thermo-Fluids Area

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Emphasizes thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics. Current research activity is in combustion processes, internal combustion engines, transmissions, heat and mass transfer, fluid mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, and emissions and air quality control.

Manufacturing/Industrial Area

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Current research activity is in metal cutting, metal forming (with specific thrusts in sheet metal deformation), grinding, tribological aspects of forming and machining, computer-aided design of dies for forming metals and polymers, robotics and automation, metrology, data-dependent system analysis, industrial engineering, and environmentally conscious manufacturing. The manufacturing systems engineering program emphasizes the integration of design, materials, computers, and manufacturing with an exposure to business and engineering administration, and is particularly suitable for those who have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical, metallurgical, or chemical engineering.

Solid Mechanics Area

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Emphasizes topics in mechanics and materials science. Current research activity is in mechanics of materials with microstructure, experimental mechanics, plasticity, wave propagation and dynamic fracture, biomechanics, micromechanics, ceramics, crashworthiness, polymer matrix composites, and computational mechanics.

Mechanical Engineers study:
  • Statics: How are forces transmitted to and throughout a structure?
  • Dynamics: What are the velocities,accelerations and resulting forces for a system in motion?
  • Kinematics: How does a mechanism behave as it moves through its range of motion?
  • Strength of Materials: Is the component strong enough to support the loads? Is it stiff enough?
  • Materials Science: Which material has the optimum properties?
  • Thermodynamics : How does energy get converted to useful power? What are the losses?
  • Fluid Mechanics: What is the pressure drop due to the fluid flow? What are the aerodynamic drag forces?
  • Heat Transfer: How do you calculate heat transfer rates from temperature data?  How do you predict the temperature distributions?
  • Manufacturing: What manufacturing processes do you select?
  • Machine Design: How do you synthesize all of the above?
  • Electrical Circuits: How do you integrate electronic controls into your design?
  • Laboratory Methods: How do you make and interpret both thermal and mechanical measurements?
  • Vibrations: How do you predict and control vibrations?
  • Engineering Economics: How do you estimate manufacturing costs?

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Mechanical Engineers can take the following career paths:
  • Industry (the most common)
  • Graduate School
  • Entrepreneur/Business Owner
  • Research Labs
  • Military
  • Government
  • Preparation for other Professions (law, medicine, teaching, etc.)
Mechanical Engineers are engaged in the following activities:
  • Conceptual design
  • Analysis
  • Presentations and report writing
  • Multidisciplinary teamwork
  • Concurrent engineering
  • Benchmarking the competition
  • Project management
  • Prototyping
  • Testing
  • Measurements
  • Data Interpretation
  • Developmental design
  • Research
  • Work with suppliers
  • Sales
  • Consulting
  • Customer service
Skills that help Mechanical Engineers to be successful in their careers:
  • Problem solving (The essence of engineering!)
  • Creativity
  • Hands-on understanding
  • Networking
  • Leadership/conflict resolution
  • Knowledge management
Mechanical Engineering careers can have the following stages:
  • Early years – technical work most important
  • Middle years – project management and product expert knowledge (still technical) become more important.
  • Senior years – corporate, market, and global understanding become important.
  • Communication and team skills remain important throughout.
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