Every part of our modern life revolves around machines, so it is vital that there are skilled professionals with the ability to not only to design and maintain them but also to improve them. A role as a mechanical engineer should appeal to anyone fascinated by the working of machines - so if that sounds like you then read on!
What does a Mechanical Engineer do?
The role of a mechanical engineer is broad, but in essence it involves taking a problem that needs to be solved and then designing and manufacturing a machine to hopefully solve that problem. The services of a mechanical engineer are required in numerous sectors including the automotive, aerospace, bio-technical, computing, oil/gas and manufacturing industries.
On a day-to-day basis, a mechanical engineer will typically be engaged in the following duties:
- Working as part of a team to research and design new machines
- Determining the potential forces and temperatures machines may be subjected to during use
- Considering the aesthetics of the machine
- Using computer aided design programmes (CAD) to expedite the process
- Presenting potential designs to management or clients
- Maintaining the efficiency of existing machines and overseeing maintenance teams
Often the oil and gas industry pays the highest salaries. However, the average salaries are displayed below:
Between £22,000 and £26,000 (National Careers Service)
The best mechanical engineers have the following skills:
- A methodical approach to solving problems
- The ability to think "outside the box" if necessary
- The ability to communicate ideas clearly and concisely
- Excellent IT knowledge
- Strong leadership abilities
- Being able to work under pressure and meet deadlines
- The ability to work well in a team
Qualifications and Entry Requirements
A degree (or equivalent) in mechanical engineering or a similar discipline is normally required to become a mechanical engineer. Many universities offer mechanical engineering courses: check with UCAS to find a course that’s right for you. Most will require maths and physics A-levels and another compatible A-level such as chemistry or further mathematics.
The courses last:
- 3 years, leading to a BEng
- 4 years, leading to a MEng
- 5 years, leading to an MEng and include a sandwich year working with a mechanical engineering firm; this work experience can significantly help employment prospects after graduation.
Many courses include in-depth study of Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Computer Aided Modeling (CAM) software packages e.g. the University of Bradford offers a 5 year course which covers CAD and CAM extensively. There are also stand-alone courses available: City and Guilds offers a number of CAD courses suitable for a variety of skill levels.
Another option is to apply for an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer. Companies like Ford and Aerospace are always keen to supplement their workforce with apprentices - visit the National Apprenticeship Service for more details.
Career Prospects and Development
Many mechanical engineers, having gained a few years work experience, choose to attain professional registration with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. There are three different ranks:
- Chartered Engineer (CEng): "Chartered Engineers are professional engineers who develop answers to engineering problems using new or existing technologies in creative and innovative ways."
- Incorporated Engineer (IEng): "Incorporated Engineers are professional engineers who maintain, manage and apply current and developing technology. You might be working in fields like engineering design, development, manufacture, construction and operations."
- Engineering Technicican (EngTech): "EngTech is a level of professional registration exclusively for Engineering Technicians. Engineering Technicians are concerned with applying proven techniques and procedures to the solution of practical engineering problems."
Whichever one you choose, you will be required to prove your current knowledge and also pledge to keep your knowledge up to date in the future.
In terms of job opportunities, according to the National Careers Service there will be 1,771,000 positions in the science and engineering sector by 2020, so there should be no problems for well-qualified candidates finding work. Some of the largest employers of mechanical engineers include the armed forces, public utility companies and oil and mining firms.
So, if you work hard at your studies and find a good employer, there’s no reason why you can’t have a long and successful career tinkering with machines that make all our lives much easier.