Mechanical Engineer

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CAREER PROFILE

Duties: Perform engineering duties in planning and designing engines, power-producing machines, power-using machines, and other mechanically functioning equipment

Alternate Title(s): Mechanical Design Engineer; Process Engineer; Product Engineer

Salary Range: $30,000 to $94,110 (In USD as of Apr 11, 2015)

Employment Prospects: Fair to Good

Advancement Prospects: Fair

Prerequisites:

Education or Training - Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering required; master’s degree in mechanical engineering or related technical discipline frequently recommended

Experience - Three to five years or more of mechanical engineering experience in a manufacturing or power plant environment

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Ability to interpret building, mechanical, state, local and federal safety codes; analytical skills; computer literate and particularly proficient with word processing and spreadsheet software; excellent verbal and written communication skills; flexible and self-directed; strong interpersonal capabilities and a team player

Special Requirements - Certification required on all government jobs, and usually required for work in the private sector

CAREER LADDER

Engineering Technician  >>  Mechanical Engineer  >> Director of Mechanical Engineering; Project Manager

Position Description

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. It involves the application of principles of physics for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. Mechanical Engineers work on 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 equipment, industrial production equipment, machine tools, and material handling systems. They perform engineering analysis and design of existing and new equipment systems (such as pumps, agitators, fans, tanks, vessels, and piping).

The process of mechanical engineering is optimization: Mechanical Engineers strive to optimize the cost of production, as well as the durability, safety, and overall usefulness of objects and systems. Mechanical Engineers research, develop, design, manufacture, and test tools, engines, machines (including power-producing machines), and other mechanical devices. They analyze complex technical problems involving thermal analysis (a branch of materials science where the properties of materials are studied as they change with temperature) and mechanical packaging of systems with moving parts. They research, plan, design, and develop mechanical products and systems, such as instruments, controls, robots, engines, machines, and mechanical, thermal hydraulic, or heat transfer systems for production, transmission, measurement, and use of energy. They may manage power facilities and utilities (high-pressure steam, condensate, chilled water, high voltage electrical, gas, water, and sewer systems), and be involved with utility master plans, cost tracking, and energy conservation requirements. They need to have a solid understanding of such key concepts as mechanics (the study of forces and their effect upon matter and systems), kinematics (the study of the motion of bodies and systems, while ignoring the forces that cause that motion), energy, and thermodynamics (the study of how energy moves through a system). Mechanical Engineers working within the energy industry are particularly involved with thermodynamics.

Thermodynamics deals with the energy interactions in physical systems. Engineering thermodynamics uses the concepts of thermodynamics to solve engineering problems. Typically, engineering thermodynamics is concerned with changing energy from one form to another and with finding ways to make systems more efficient, be they nuclear reactors, oil refineries, or electric power generators and substations. Much of the data used by Mechanical Engineers is empirical (e.g., derived from experience, observation, or experimentation). Engineering thermodynamics develops the theory and techniques required to use empirical thermodynamic data effectively, much of which now can be retrieved from computer databases. There are even software applications that are tailored to specific areas that will give answers for common design situations. Nevertheless, Mechanical Engineers need to have a thorough understanding of the underlying principles of thermodynamics, coupled with the ability to judge the limitations of empirical data when applied to specific design problems.

Additionally, Mechanical Engineers must be adept at drafting, or technical drawing, which is the means by which they create the instructions for manufacturing parts and designing the interweaving elements of an electric power unit or system. This technical drawing can be a computer model or a hand-drawn schematic displaying all the dimensions necessary for manufacturing a part or designing a system. Computer-aided drafting (CAD) software programs allow the designing engineer to create in three dimensions. Combined with computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), or combined CAD/CAM programs, these instructions can be fed into the computer to create the necessary full design, or fed into the necessary machinery to create the required part. Three-dimensional models created with CAD software are commonly used in finite element analysis (FEA), a powerful computational method for simulating the response of structures, structural components or materials to loading. In addition, they are used in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which is one of the branches of fluid mechanics that employs numerical methods and algorithms to analyze/solve problems that involve fluid flows (such as the transmission and distribution of electric power).

Generally, Mechanical Engineers are responsible for planning and performing design development tasks from concept to implementation. They study, analyze, and evaluate all product or system design concepts and plans, and direct (or conduct) testing necessary to assure adequate performance of designs for all stages and complexities of the development project. They are responsible for documentation of all performed tasks, including the initial descriptions, specifications, testing methodologies, and final implementations. They must have a full understanding of standards and codes, such as those of the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as applied to both the manufacture of tools and equipment and the design of electric power systems, power plants, and electric distribution systems.

Salaries

In a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, average starting salaries for Mechanical Engineers ranged from $50,000 to $68,000 yearly, depending upon their level of educational background, from the attainment of a bachelor’s degree to the earning of a Ph.D. degree. In their survey of engineering salaries, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, in May 2004, Mechanical Engineers had annual incomes ranging from a low of $43,000 to a high of $97,000 or more.

Employment Prospects

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006–07 Edition, projects that Mechanical Engineers will have an average rate of employment growth through 2014. Although total employment in manufacturing industries is expected to decline, employment of Mechanical Engineers, particularly in the electric power industry, should increase as the demand for more efficient, faster, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly technologies increases. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that, during the next five to 20 years, advances in power electronics technologies and their mechanical devices could revolutionize many aspects of power system operations and planning. The place of Mechanical Engineers in the development of new devices for power system operations should provide growing job opportunities in the years to come.

Advancement Prospects

Experienced senior Mechanical Engineers may find professional advancement by accepting further management and supervisory responsibilities as project managers or directors of mechanical engineering within a utility company. In addition, the skills acquired as a Mechanical Engineer can often be applied in other engineering specialties that may provide more responsibility and higher salary possibilities.

Education and Training

Graduation from a college or university that is accredited (by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET, Inc.) with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or, in some cases, electrical engineering is a basic requisite for being hired as a Mechanical Engineer. Some Mechanical Engineers may find it important enough to pursue a postgraduate degree such as a master of engineering/ master of science, a master of engineering management, or a doctor of philosophy in engineering.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Mechanical Engineers must possess good verbal and written communication talents and have demonstrable organizational and interpersonal skills. They should be flexible, self-directed, and capable of working in a team environment. They must be computer literate to the extent of being knowledgeable about such software as Lotus Notes, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, MS Project, Visio, and Oracle. They need to be proficient with CAD and/or CAD/CAM programming tools as well as other software, such as Pro/ Engineer, Solid-works, and Unigraphics. They should be familiar with product design development cycles and have some background in analyzing complex technical problems involving thermal analysis and mechanical packaging of systems with moving parts. They should have a basic knowledge of electrical circuit analysis and the principles of operation of pressure sensors, temperature sensors, speed sensors, solenoids, servos, and pneumatically or hydraulically actuated valves.

Mechanical Engineers must be able to write equipment and material specifications, data sheets, and material requisitions and to interpret specifications furnished by others. Besides their background in design and development, they should have a working knowledge of testing methodologies, production techniques, and maintenance procedures. They should be acquainted with standards relating to mechanical engineering such as those of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the National Electrical Manufacturing Association (NEMA).

Mechanical Engineers must exhibit careful attention to detail and be highly reliable and responsible in fulfilling their obligations. They need to be creative and attentive thinkers in developing fresh ideas and answers to work-related problems and be willing to take on new responsibilities and challenges. Special Requirements In most cases, a certification as a professional engineer is a requirement for employment. Mechanical Engineers may seek licensure by a state government. To become a licensed Professional Engineer, an engineer must pass the comprehensive FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam, then work a given number of years (usually three to five) as an Engineer in Training (EIT), and then pass the PE (Practicing Engineer) exam.

Unions and Associations

The major professional association for Mechanical Engineers is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Membership in other organizations, such as the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) or the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), may also prove useful.

Tips for Entry

1. Along with courses in engineering, be sure to include physics and chemistry, which will provide invaluable background in such topics as thermodynamics.

2. Become computer literate and acquaint yourself with advanced development software, such as C++, as well as analytical and scientific software and computer-aided design (CAD) programs.

3. Take courses in administration and management, as you will need to have a knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, production methods, and resource allocation and coordination.

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