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Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is a Mechanical Engineer?

What is a Mechanical Engineer?
Mechanical engineering plays a dominant role in enhancing
safety, economic vitality, enjoyment and overall quality of life
throughout the world. Mechanical engineers are concerned
with the principles of force, energy and motion. The men and
women who work as mechanical engineers are professionals
with expert knowledge of the design and manufacture of
mechanical systems and thermal devices and processes.
Some examples of products and processes developed by
mechanical engineers include engines and control systems for
automobiles and aircraft, electric power generation plants,
lifesaving medical devices and consumer products ranging
from air conditioners to personal computers and athletic
equipment. They also design the machines that mass-produce
these products. Virtually every aspect of life is touched by
mechanical engineering. If something moves or uses energy,
a mechanical engineer was probably involved in its design
or production.
An Evolving Profession
The explosive development and expansion in computer technology
has literally changed the face of mechanical engineering.
The drawing board has given way to computeraided-
design (CAD), and sophisticated computational software
tools have enabled mechanical engineers to develop
efficient solutions to complex technical problems. For example,
the emerging high-tech field of nanotechnology is attracting
mechanical engineers to design ultra-miniature machines
and tiny implantable medical devices that navigate the
human body searching for disease and damaged tissue.
Also, the growing concern for the planet and the quality of
life for future generations have spurred continuing efforts by
mechanical engineers to design resource-efficient and recyclable
products and develop equipment and processes to
clean-up existing environmental problems and prevent their
These technologies and a host of others will have an impact
on lives in the 21st century, and their development and refinement
require the skills, intuition and creative ability of
mechanical engineers. At the same time, mechanical engineers
are expected to understand and convey the real-world
consequences of technology development alternatives to decision-
makers and the public.
Toward a Career
in Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is a profession requiring specific
skills. These skills are acquired through education, training
and experience. Throughout high school, students must enroll
in certain courses as preparation for acceptance into engineering
programs at a college or university. A solid foundation
in mathematics, science and the language arts is critical.
Strong mathematics preparation includes algebra, geometry,
trigonometry and calculus. Chemistry, biology and physics
form the basic science foundation. Ability in oral and written
communications is important to success in mechanical engineering
studies, and courses in mechanical or computer-aided
drafting/drawing and other technology-related subjects can
help students begin to understand the important practicalities
of technological projects.
Students can enhance their studies and enrich the overall
learning experience by entering science and technology fairs
and design competitions, and by joining clubs or career
groups devoted to engineering and science. Some clubs
sponsor day trips and similar excursions to companies, laboratories
and industrial facilities, where students can meet engineers
in actual work environments.
Alex Burkat
Principal Mechanical
Disney Imagineering,
Glendale, CA
"I'm a mechanical engineer
working for Walt Disney.
My job is to design rides for
Disney theme parks. One of
the first rides I worked on was
Splash Mountain at Disneyland. The ride was just finished
at the time I was hired, and I was drafted to debug it and
improve certain components and add certain features to it.
Sometimes I take my kids to Disneyland. They know that I
worked on some attractions and I did this or that's very
satisfying to see your things actually built and working."
College for the
Mechanical Engineering Student
While mechanical engineering programs may vary in specific
content and detail, they are linked by a common educational
philosophy. The programs provide a broad-based education
with a concentration on fundamentals and basic laws
as the major tools required for the professional practice of
mechanical engineering. Graduates are expected to have
the ability to work professionally, as individuals and in
teams, in both the thermal and mechanical systems areas,
including the design, manufacture and control of such systems.
Moreover, they are expected to understand the ethical,
legal, and societal implications of their work.
Mathematics is a fundamental language of the engineering
program. Students also gain extensive integrated laboratory,
computer and design experiences. The design experience
emphasizes synthesis, computer applications and problem
solving. Communications, teamwork and practical
hands-on experience with various product design processes
are also important elements of the program. Internships, coop
semesters and participation in ASME Student Section
activities are strongly encouraged as means to gain exposure
to engineering practice.
Those seeking to pursue a mechanical engineering degree
in the United States should look for a college curriculum
accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering
and Technology). There are approximately 265 college and
university mechanical engineering degree programs accredited
by ABET. In other countries, look toward polytechnic
and university programs that are recognized by governmental
education authorities and by the professional organization
of mechanical engineers in that country.
Lori Laird
Biomedical Engineer
Guidant Corporation,
Santa Clara, CA
"We develop tools that assist
surgeons. Doctors will come
in and they'll tell you, ‘we're
having difficulty with this type
of surgery and we'd like to
develop a better way to do it.’
So immediately we say, ‘okay, how can we develop a
product to do this?’"
Where Mechanical Engineers Work
Employment prospects for mechanical engineers are strong,
particularly where local economies are growing. In the
Unites States, for example, the profession is growing by 16
percent, or 35,000 jobs annually, which is a rate of growth
expected to continue to the year 2006.
Industrial sectors in which mechanical engineers have traditionally
made substantial contributions include aerospace,
automotive, chemical, computer and electronics, construction,
consumer products, energy, engineering consulting and
government. In addition, the medical and pharmaceutical
industries present exciting opportunities for mechanical
engineers to join forces with the life sciences. Even the
entertainment industry relies heavily on mechanical engineers
for special effects and amusement park equipment.
The vast majority of this work is done in thousands of companies
ranging from large multi-nationals to small, local
firms. Job functions and responsibilities range from product
and production design engineering and systems design to
power plant operations, quality control and project management.
With experience and further education, some
mechanical engineers move into legal or management
positions that build upon their scientific and technical skills
and expertise. Others choose the path of scholarly
research and teaching. The work of the mechanical engineer
is diverse and worldwide, and the careers of mechanical
engineers are marked by an important common factor -
-- continuous learning.
Caecilia Gotama
Associate Partner and
Project Manager
Syska & Hennessy,
Los Angeles, CA
“There are engineers who
become lawyers, there are
engineers who become
doctors, and there are lots
of engineers, like myself,
who are still involved in engineering but acting as
consultants. So there are a lot of opportunities out of
engineering school."
Melinda Cecacci
Aerospace Technologist/
Propulsion Systems
NASA Johnson
Space Center,
Houston, TX
"I am doing a job that is an
opportunity of a lifetime.
The work that has given me
the most pride was the program involving the first joint
docking of the Mir and the Space shuttle. At NASA, I
work with a team of flight controllers, and they come from
a wealth of different backgrounds. We have math
majors, we have engineers from electrical to civil to
mechanical to chemical. We have physics majors, scientists.
All different kinds of people come here. So we
draw on a wealth of knowledge, which is great. It adds
to the effectiveness of how we do our jobs."
The annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition
of Science and Technology) Competition teams high
school students with engineers from companies to
build robots which compete against one another in
sports-like events.
Lifelong Learning and Becoming
Part of the Profession

One engineer's new product is another engineer's new
tool. Mechanical engineers are in the business of advancing
the technological state of the art and are doing so at
a rapid pace and on a global scale.
The analytical and critical thinking and problem-solving
skills that result from an engineering education will serve
throughout one’s life. However, to remain competent and
competitive throughout one’s career, the mechanical engineer
must continuously learn about, and use, new developments
in the field. Every project, promotion and job
change produces new learning demands. To stay abreast
of new developments in the field, mechanical engineers
enroll in graduate courses and read technical books,
codes, papers, magazines and journals. They attend short
courses, take on-line courses, and participate in workshops
and conferences.
ASME and other professional societies play an important
role in providing these types of learning opportunities for
engineers. Engineers who are active in professional societies
gain a competitive edge, enhance their knowledge
and technical expertise, and acquire leadership skills. To
get an early start in the profession, once you enroll at the
college or university of your choice, join the 24,000
mechanical engineering student-members of ASME and
become active in the ASME Student Section on campus.
Norris Allman
Senior Supervising
Test Engineer
PSE&G of New
"...people are judged
by what they know
more than their friendships
or what school
they went to. It’s a technical
business... if you’re technically competent, you’ll do
very well."


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