Be creative and innovative as a mechanical engineer

Mechanical Engineer - Career Spotlight

Mechanical engineering is thought to be one of the most diverse engineering fields out there. Mechanical engineers work to develop new tools, systems, and plans to optimize performance for a company or client. They start by evaluating the current system and building on understanding of what works and what doesn't. After the education phase, they identify problems and craft tools for solutions. This process works to save the company money, increase efficiency, and reduce the risks and safety hazards throughout the production and distribution process. This is an interesting job title that spans across multiple fields, so keep reading to answer the question, "What does a mechanical engineer do?"

What Can You Expect From a Mechanical Engineer Job?

Responsibilities

The mechanical engineer job description requires a variety of daily tasks that center around the big picture of a project. Depending on the project, the mechanical engineer will spend a lot of time on one aspect of the creation process, which paves the way to making the other parts easier. They may juggle multiple projects at once and change tasks throughout the day. Mechanical engineer responsibilities include:

  • Designing equipment modifications and system changes
  • Evaluating current systems for weakness and opportunities for improvement
  • Creating, building, and testing multiple designs
  • Calculating the cost of the improvement versus the benefits to the company
  • Presenting budget proposals for the creation of additional tools to improve production
  • Listening to employees and floor managers to understand their problems
  • Analyzing the financial costs of production and looking for waste
  • Recommending changes based on beta-testing
  • Training employees and managers on the new equipment and its effectiveness
  • Planning long-term system overhauls and changes
  • Reporting results to colleagues facing similar challenges
  • Isolating design tests from other tests to ensure results accuracy
  • Documenting specifications and design needs for launch

Work Environment

Mechanical engineers typically work in an office environment for a large company or an engineering agency. They will be given a desk, computer, and phone. Depending on the company, they may have a drafting table, though today most companies create blueprints and prototypes digitally. They may also receive a laptop or tablet to bring with them when they have meetings in different parts of the company, or for working at home.

While mechanical engineers spend most of their time at their desks, they also need to walk around to visit different parts of the production process. This may require several hours on the production floor or in the distribution center learning how everything operates. These environments can be loud and uncomfortable, depending on what the company produces.

Some mechanical engineers work on a contractor or freelance basis. This gives them the opportunity to work from home, though they may have to travel extensively to meet with clients and check on different projects. The mechanical engineer is typically traveling between the office and work site to better understand the problems and needs of employees.

When looking for a mechanical engineering job, look for regions with a strong manufacturing economy. Cities like Detroit are always looking to improve their processes and create products more efficiently and safely.

Schedule

Most mechanical engineers have a traditional work schedule from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. These hours can be extended if they're working on a tight deadline or traveling between the office and production facility. In this case, night and weekend work may be required.

The benefit of becoming a contractor or freelance mechanical engineer is the flexibility. As long as the project is on deadline and under budget, mechanical engineers can spend whatever hours they want working on it. Some people who work better at night prefer this, as do those who want to drop their kids off at school and spend time with them when they return home. Some companies offer part-time work from home options, so talk to your employer about it before you're hired.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be a Mechanical Engineer?

Education

Most mechanical engineering jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree before they can be hired for a full-time position. Some companies prefer their candidates have a master's degree, especially if there's opportunity to advance within the company. They may hire you as an intern or part-time tech while you complete your education, which increases your experience and employment prospects. Below are a few major options for mechanical engineers:

Some companies may require candidates to have additional knowledge based on the industry. This may apply to medical or biotech companies that are heavily regulated. There will either be training on the job, or the company will look for a limited candidate field that has both skill sets.

Experience

The mechanical engineering industry is evenly distributed across experience levels. It's possible to use this job title to get your foot in the door, as 13 percent of mechanical engineers have less than one year of experience. The largest demographic is engineers with one to four years of experience, making up 46 percent of the workforce. After that, 23 percent have five to nine years of experience, and 18 percent have more than ten years. This information proves that mechanical engineers either stick to their job title or become more specialized as they learn more about the field.

Skills

You can answer "What is a mechanical engineer?" based on their skill set. A mechanical engineer is someone who possesses left and right brain skills to brainstorm solutions and work out the technical elements for a launch. Examples of the mechanical engineer skill set include:

Internal Software - Mechanical engineers typically use software platforms provided by the company to create prototypes.

Financial Analysis - Before they can order the creation of their latest gadgets, mechanical engineers need to evaluate the cost of materials and creation to the company.

Blueprint Creation - Engineers often create blueprints that map out the measurements and specs of a product before creating a prototype

Critical Thinking - Engineers need to be able to make decisions based on what's best for the company, what is effective, and what will save all parties financially.

Creativity - The ability to come up with multiple new solutions to a problem is a valued skill in the field.

Office Programs - Most companies still use Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel for daily tasks.

Data Analysis - Tools like SQL and Access are a plus for engineers that deal with large swaths of data to identify patterns and troubleshoot issues.

Communication - Mechanical engineers need to pitch their solutions on why they are the best and worth the additional cost in the short term to the company.

Listening - Smart mechanical engineers will listen to the problems of employees within the company and brainstorm solutions with them.

Ability to Work Under Pressure - Mechanical engineers often work under tight deadlines and need to maintain a sense of calm despite the pressures of running late.

Attention to Detail - Engineers that lack detail can cause prototypes to turn out wrong or could cause a project to go over budget.

Salary Expectations

During the first year or two, mechanical engineers typically earn $50,000 as a starting salary. Within a few years, they can reach the median salary of $73,000. As mechanical engineers become more specialized, they can enter the top 25 percent pay rate for the industry, which is about $84,000. Some companies and industries even pay their engineers $100,000 or more. Answering "How much do mechanical engineers make?" depends on the location, their experience, and company the employee works for.

Job Outlook for Mechanical Engineers

Projected Growth

According to The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mechanical Engineering jobs are expected to grow by 5 percent between now and 2024. This is average growth compared to the rest of the United States, and experts predict an increase of 14,600 new jobs in the field. During unstable economic times, companies are always trying to save money, and mechanical engineers can be part of the solution in making their employer more efficient.

Career Trajectory

Mechanical engineers who excel in their field have the opportunity to become senior mechanical engineers who lead a team in production improvement. They prioritize different projects and assign various elements to team members to keep the overall plan on deadline. Along with technical know-how, this requires management skills like leadership, communication, and delegating.

Mechanical engineers can also become design and production engineers that focus on the overall production process within the company. Instead of focusing on a specific problem item, they evaluate how the creation process works and brainstorm ways for improvement. This is similar to industrial engineering, which seeks to improve the company workflow.

Mechanical engineering is a great career option for people who love challenging the status quo and looking for ways to constantly improve the existing infrastructure. It involves a great deal of planning, but there's also the creative aspect that lets professionals tinker and build something out of nothing. This is why many mechanical engineers love their jobs -- the invention and creative processes.