Mechanical engineers are problem solvers who use technical expertise to create novel solutions that improve our lives. This broad statement, while true, is usually all that people really understand about the role of a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineering is actually a specialization with considerably diverse career applications in a range of industries and roles.
Career Paths for Mechanical Engineers
Mechanical engineering refers generally to the design and development of machines, which can include everything from simple household products to vehicles and even medical devices. Below, we’ve rounded up some common mechanical engineering jobs to give you just a glimpse of what you could do with a degree in this field.
Biomedical engineering applies the principles of engineering to medicine to create the equipment, devices, systems and software used in healthcare. While you can also earn a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, for people with backgrounds in mechanical engineering, work in this field might include developing artificial limbs, machines that better diagnose and treat ailments, and other medical devices.
Between the aging population and the increasing level of technology in the healthcare field, biomedical engineering jobs are expected to grow by about 7 percent in the next decade, and the median annual pay in the field is about $85,000.1
The automotive industry relies on mechanical engineers to develop safer, more reliable vehicles. Automotive engineers design, build and test auto parts and entire vehicles, with an eye toward solving common problems in transportation, such as safety and fuel efficiency. For example, an automotive engineer might work on a more efficient engine to reduce gas consumption, or on structural elements that reduce the risk of injury in a crash.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that demand for automotive engineers will increase by 9 percent by 2026, driven in large part by advances in automotive technology, including the development of AI and self-driving cars. The median annual salary in this field is about $84,000.2
Robotics have long been a key part of the engineering industry, and are only growing in importance as technology improves. Robotics engineers are the ones who design and build the machines that build other machines, as well as remotely operated machines that interact with their surroundings.
For example, robotics engineers help create the machines that conduct repetitive tasks in manufacturing plants, or that perform tasks that are too dangerous for humans. They may also apply expertise in biomechanics to the development of artificial limbs. As demand for robotic technology increases, so does demand for robotics engineers. Growth is expected to be about 5 percent in the coming years, with median annual salaries around $84,000.3
Thermal engineering focuses on the use of thermodynamic principles to create and maintain systems that convert energy into heating and cooling. These engineers not only design heating and air conditioning systems, but also use their knowledge to help design buildings in ways that efficiently manage their energy usage.
Geothermal engineering is a growing application in this area as well, as alternatives to conventional energy sources are increasingly being developed. The BLS classifies thermal engineering under mechanical engineering and predicts 9 percent job growth in the field by 2026. The annual median salary in this field is about $84,000.2
Manufacturing engineering refers to the production of goods; the development of machines, tools and equipment for manufacturing; and the refinement of processes and techniques for optimum productivity. While many manufacturing engineers work on the design and development of machines, others work in research and testing.
Manufacturing engineers are involved in the creation of almost every type of product, from airplanes and cars all the way down to toys and microchips. Growth in the manufacturing engineering sector is expected to be 10 percent between now and 2024. As with other mechanical engineering specialties, the annual median salary is about $84,000.2
Systems engineers develop process-based solutions to improve operations by bringing together multiple technical disciplines into a single coordinated effort. This includes developing systems with the input of stakeholders and an eye toward performance and cost, testing systems to ensure they work and to identify potential problems, and maintaining systems once they are launched.
Although you can also get a graduate degree in Systems and Control Engineering, a background in mechanical engineering can bring unique skills to this area. Graduates can work for companies that manufacture robotics and other machine components, but rather than design those products, a mechanical engineer working in systems would likely be on the operations side, developing and refining manufacturing processes.
Discover Your Next Step
The BLS predicts that systems engineering careers will grow by about 10 percent between now and 2026. This is driven in large part by companies’ ongoing desire to control costs and improve efficiency. The median pay for these jobs is in the mid-$80,000 range, with the highest paid systems engineers earning well over six figures annually.4
These are only a few of the diverse career options available to mechanical engineers. If you are looking to expand your career prospects, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve can put you on the right track.
- Retrieved on April 19, 2018, from www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm
- Retrieved on April 19, 2018, from www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/mechanical-engineers.htm#tab-5
- Retrieved on April 19, 2018, from study.com/articles/Robotics_Engineer_Job_Outlook_and_Required_Education.html
- Retrieved on April 19, 2018, from www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/industrial-engineers.htm