Overview of Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical Engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the study of mechanical objects and systems entirely in motion or with moving parts. Simply put, it is the engineering of machines. Mechanical engineers apply their knowledge to the design, development, building and manufacture of mechanical components systems, devices, tools, machines and processes.
Mechanical engineers should understand core concepts in mechanics dynamics, thermodynamics, materials science. And also statics, kinematics, structural analysis, and energy.
Mechanical Engineers can specialise in machine design, product design, manufacturing, energy, dynamics and controls, power generation, transport vehicles, medical technology, building services, engineering economics, and many more.
Mechanical Engineering graduates should have these Course-specific: analysis, design, installation, testing and maintenance of mechanical systems. The ability to model and simulate mechanical systems can provide a skill advantage in computer-aided design and manufacturing.
Mechanical Engineering graduates should have acquired competencies that make them a good fit for jobs in these career disciplines:
- Design and Engineering: Mechanical engineers have technical skills that make them capable of coming up with concepts for products, systems and processes. They oversee the day to day running of equipment and undertaking testing and maintenance performance functions.
- Consulting: Mechanical engineers possess analytical skills that make them suitable for the Consulting industry. Especially in the big four and big eight professional services firms that regularly compete for talent. However, some may find their career path deepening into finance which requires professional qualifications. Job functions typically include audit, tax, and advisory services.
Other Career Disciplines:
- Information Technology: Like other engineering students, mechanical engineers can take advantage of their engineering background to leap into an information technology career. Career paths that may of interest include networking and communications, data science, and information technology support.
Job roles in these career disciplines may include working as a Mechanical engineer, Design engineer, product development engineer, Process engineer, Operations and fabrications engineer, Instrumentation and controls engineer, Thermodynamics engineer, Aeronautical and aircraft maintenance engineer, Consulting engineer, Quality engineer, test engineer, Project engineer and project manager.
Other roles include Construction Engineer-Mechanical/Piping, Fabrication Engineers, Mechanical Design Engineer, Piping Project Engineer, Service Engineers, Mechanical Inspection Engineer, Design Engineer (Mechanical), and Site Engineer (Mechanical).
Learn more about each of these career clusters, discover specialisations and deciding which one fits you. Find roles available, more about what they do, relevant skills and find out further learning options in each discipline. For an overview of career clusters, visit: Career Clusters.
Mechanical Engineering graduates work with organisations in the following industries:
- Automotive: The automotive industry is a top destination for mechanical engineers. Top employers of mechanical engineers in the industry are car makers, car assemblers, component makers, car maintenance and servicing firms. Career opportunities include designing platforms and engines for new cars, setting up assembly lines for production, conducting laboratory testing suspension systems and performance safety, evaluating aerodynamics to new alternative fuels, and troubleshooting manufacturing issues.
- Aviation: a significant number of mechanical engineers specialise in aerospace engineering, either by experience and through specialised learning or both. Top employers include aircraft manufacturers, aerospace, defence companies and agencies. Career opportunities include the design, manufacture, operation and maintenance of aircraft engines and weapon systems.
- Energy: Mechanical engineers are typically involved with the generation, distribution, and use of energy. Typical employers are energy generation, transmission and distribution companies. They may work in the design and operation of fossil fuel plants. And also hydroelectric, conventional, nuclear, and cogeneration power plants. Mechanical engineers generally have career opportunities in the utility sector.
- FMCGs and Industrials & Manufacturing: Manufacturing in the industry is usually done in plants using electrical and mechanical systems. Prominent among them are assembly plants with conveyor belts for packaging products. Top employers in this industry are consumer good manufacturing companies and technology firms that support their production activities.
- Extractives and Oil & Gas: Both closely related industries involve drilling the ground and oceans for mineral deposits. Mechanical engineers work as site engineers to design, install and maintain equipment such as drilling controls, pumps, engines, turbines. These are used for extraction, processing and producing oil and gas at either onshore or offshore production installations. Top employers include mining companies, oil & gas exploration and services companies.
- Consulting: The analytical skills of mechanical engineers make them a favourite for consulting firms filling in graduate positions. Top employers are the professional service networks, including the Big 4 and Big 8 firms into tax, audit and advisory services.
Other Industries include:
- Construction: Large construction sites require all sorts of machinery; heavy equipment, mixers, pumps, turbines, tools and components designed, set up, installed and maintained by mechanical engineers. They also install heating, cooling and ventilation systems of new buildings. Top employers are construction firms into structural engineering, infrastructure development.
- Healthcare: Aside from their work in the construction of healthcare facilities, mechanical engineers in the biomechanical field design and manage the production of life-saving medical equipment such as artificial limbs, pacemakers and robotic surgical assistants. Top employers are large hospitals and medical equipment makers.
You can select each of these skills to learn more about the application areas and ways to develop them. For an overview of industry skills, visit: Industry Profiles.
Several Masters in Engineering (MEng) graduate programmes are available to mechanical engineers. There is also the EngD, which is essentially an industry-based PhD—that combines Doctoral-level research with training in practical skills. Postgraduate studies are available in the following areas: mechanics, mechatronics, maintenance engineering, space and aeronautical engineering, industrial engineering, technological machinery and equipment, aircraft engineering, electromechanical engineering, manufacturing and mechanical system, biomechanical engineering, material science, nanoengineering, ocean engineering and transportation systems.
National and international societies and national councils of Engineers conducts professional qualification exams. Some countries have institutes of mechanical engineering which operate under engineering societies/councils. Relevant certifications are Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) and Project Management Professional (PMP). For competence in modelling and simulation, there is software training in ANSYS, AUTODESK, MATLAB, SOLIDWORKS, and COMSOL. Data science tools for machine learning applications include SAS, RStudio, STATA and SPSS.
Relevant Professional Bodies for Mechanical Engineers are:
- The International Association of Engineers (IAENG)
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
In addition to national branches of the above bodies in the listed countries, the following are relevant national bodies:
- South Africa: South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE) and Engineering Council of South Africa
- Nigeria: Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Nigeria Society of Engineers.
- Morocco: Moroccan Society of Mechanical Sciences (SMSM), SNIM (Syndicat National des ingénieurs Marocains)
- Tunisia: Association Tunisienne de Mécanique/Tunisian Society of Mechanical Engineers
Several industry leaders have a background in mechanical engineering. It means you are in good company. Some of them include:
- Nneile Nkholise: A South African Social Entrepreneur and Mechanical Engineering. Her company provides innovative medical solutions with 3D printing applications. She launched her career in 2011 as a mechanical engineer at the Free State’s Public Works Department before founding iMed Tech in 2015. Her work at iMed Tech in CAD and Additive Manufacturing in breast prosthesis earned Nkholise several awards, including Forbes 30 Under 30 and the presidential award for Science, Innovation and Technology at the South African Youth Awards in 2017.
- Christian Bolu: A Nigerian Professor of Mechatronics Engineering with the first degree in mechanical engineering and a second degree in industrial engineering. His work experience span three decades which have seen him run several multi-national engineering companies in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya at top technical and management levels. He was the developer of one of the early Enterprise Resource Planning solutions widely used in engineering manufacturing plants in East and West Africa.
- Zainab Fasiki: a Moroccan comics artist, mechanical engineer and activist for women’s rights. At an early age, she was interested in drawing and robotics, which led to her obtaining The Brevet de technicien supérieur (BTS) in 2014. She ranked first in this field at a national level. She graduated as a State Engineer in Mechanics in 2017 from the National Higher School of Electricity and Mechanics in Casablanca.
- Muhammad Obaid: A Tunisian deputy chief mechanical engineer for the NASA Mars 2020 project. In 2004, Dr Muhammad Obaid joined NASA, specifically the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He graduated from the rank of engineer—until he reached the chief engineer rank for the first time in his career through the space mission “SMAP” in “NASA”. He currently heads the “Mechatronic” team at the “Jet Propulsion Laboratory”, “NASA”.
Relevant industry skills expected by employers and transferable across jobs include:
- Communication: Mechanical engineers work with non-engineer colleagues—some from a marketing background on the product development team. It is, therefore, necessary that mechanical engineers can break down technical details into understandable ideas to inform a general audience. This skill is also relevant to guiding Clients through products and processes.
- Analysis & Problem-Solving: Machines operate in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to production. Unfortunately, machines have downtime that can be routine or complex. Mechanical engineers need analytical skills to figure out the issues with these machines and solve the problems applying their skills.
- Planning & Organisation: Engineers have to be structured and organised in their thinking and have the ability to follow instructions. Mechanical engineers may need to schedule activities such as design, testing and product validation in the development lifecycle. Complex engineering projects such as the set up of industrial plants also require project management skills.
- Teamwork: Mechanical engineering connects with other career disciplines—technical and non-technical. The wide range of industries in which they work expose mechanical engineers to working with different types of engineers, IT professionals, and other domain experts which they need to interface.
- Creativity: Mechanical engineers need to add creativity to their technical skills. It can be valuable to tackling issues from a fresh perspective, conceptualising product ideas to products, and industrial design—enabled by computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing.
- Digital Proficiency (Data & Design): With the emergence of 3D printing, computer-aided engineering (CAE), an umbrella term for computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), has been taken to a whole new level. Mechanical engineers with design skills can model mechanical systems and simulate processes with a collection of software applications from companies such as Autodesk. The rise of remote monitoring and predictive maintenance for mechanical systems with technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning make data science and analytical skills essential for mechanical engineers.
You can select each of these skills to learn more about the application areas and ways to develop them. For an overview of industry skills, visit: Industry Skills.
- How Stuffs Work
- SAE Magazines
- Machine Design
- New Engineer
- ASME TechCast
- Talking Industrial Automation
- The Engineering Student Experience Podcast
- The Engineers Collective
- October Sky
- Ford vs Ferrari
- Iron Man
- The Martian
A degree in Mechanical provides you immense career opportunities in the industry, which is not limited to the ones featured in this guide. You can explore the Career and Industry Intelligence Hub for other career and Industries that may be of interest to you.