What is a Mechanical Engineer?

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. They work mostly in engineering services, research and development, manufacturing industries, and the federal government.

Find your next career

Sokanu matches you to one of over 500 careers by analyzing your personality, interests, and needs in life. Take the free assessment now to see your top career recommendations!

What does a Mechanical Engineer do?

Mechanical engineers typically do the following:

  • Analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help solve the problem
  • Design or redesign mechanical devices, creating blueprints so the device can be built
  • Develop a prototype of the device and test the prototype
  • Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
  • Oversee the manufacturing process for the device.

Mechanical engineers use many types of tools, engines, and machines. Examples include the following:

  • Power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines
  • Power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning
  • Industrial production equipment, including robots used in manufacturing
  • Other machines inside buildings, such as elevators and escalators
  • Machine tools and tools for other engineers
  • Material-handling systems, such as conveyor systems and automated transfer stations.

Like other engineers, mechanical engineers use computers extensively. Computers help mechanical engineers to produce and analyze designs, simulate and test how a machine is likely to work, generate specifications for parts, monitor the quality of products, and control manufacturing and production.

What does it take to be a Mechanical Engineer?

Nearly all entry-level mechanical engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineering degree programs usually include courses in mathematics and life and physical sciences, as well as engineering and design courses. The programs typically last four years, but many students take between four and five years to earn a degree. A mechanical engineering degree program may emphasize internships and co-ops to prepare students for work in industry.

Theory is often another main focus, in order to prepare students for graduate-level work. A few engineering schools allow students who spend three years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and two years in an engineering school studying core subjects to receive a bachelor's degree from each school. Some colleges and universities offer five-year programs that allow students to obtain both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Some five- or even six-year cooperative plans combine classroom study with practical work, enabling students to gain valuable experience and earn money to finance part of their education.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions in higher education, as well as for some research-and-development programs. Many experienced mechanical engineers get graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many become administrators or managers after obtaining a graduate degree.

Most jurisdictions require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Licensed mechanical engineers are designated as professional engineers (PEs). The PE license generally requires a degree from an accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience, and passing a standardized exam.

What is the workplace of a Mechanical Engineer like?

Mechanical engineers are the second-largest engineering occupation. They work mostly in engineering services, research and development, manufacturing industries, and the federal government. The rest are employed in general-purpose machinery manufacturing, automotive parts manufacturing, management of other companies, and testing laboratories.

Mechanical engineers generally work in professional office settings. They may occasionally visit worksites where a problem or piece of equipment needs their personal attention. Most mechanical engineers work full time, with some working as many as 60 hours or more per week.

How much does a Mechanical Engineer earn?

The median annual wage of mechanical engineers was $78,160 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $50,550, and the top 10% earned more than $119,480.

Learn more about being a Mechanical Engineer