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Mechanical vs. Electrical Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Mechanical vs. Electrical Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Mech engineer working and an electrical engineer working

At Case Western Reserve University, we know the challenges of finding the right degree program for your career.

Engineering is a broad profession, and now thanks to technological advances, many fields and specializations have begun to overlap or have drastically changed. When it comes to weighing electrical engineering vs. mechanical engineering, the challenge is that many of these engineers work in the same industries but on different sides of a project.

Both fields require mathematical and creative problem-solving skills, as well as communication and leadership skills to work alongside their peers and various stakeholders. Learn more about each field and the difference between mechanical and electrical engineering.

About Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers work with electrical systems, designing, developing and testing them. This can include communication, radar and navigation. These engineers work on all kinds of systems from the small, such as household appliances, electric motors and microchips, to the large, including power generation equipment, automobiles and aircrafts. Their work spans across industries: renewable energy, medical, commercial, communications, industrial, manufacturing, distribution, military and research, among others. There are also specializations within the field such as electronics engineering and systems and control engineering.

Electrical engineers are responsible for developing new ways to use power. Their role, though, is about more than transmitting energy. It’s about supplying and generating it as well as creating and improving new products and devices. They are also critical to maintaining these electrical systems and making sure all codes and safety standards are met. Some focus on one specific aspect of electrical engineering, such as sensors or communications systems; others might work on a single device meaning they’re also handling the wiring, motors and sensors.

The median-level salary for an electrical engineer is more than $98,000 a year.1 In addition to understanding materials, electrical engineers need to understand mathematics and electronic theory to be successful in creating circuits that perform the needed tasks or functions. They need to be able to use programs such as computer-aided design (CAD) to create computer simulations, speeding up the development process and making adjustments easier. Skills like communication and project and time management are critical in their profession because they work alongside other engineers, manufacturers, consumers as well as clients. While a bachelor's degree is required to pursue this career—and in some cases certification is as well—often a master’s degree is needed to advance to a management position.

About Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest fields in engineering and one of the most populated. Mechanical engineering is the study of objects and systems in action. Unlike electrical engineering, it focuses on the design and testing of systems that convert or transform energy. These engineers need a strong understanding of fluid dynamics, movement, force, inertia, and materials and their physical properties. They need to have mastered applied creativity and problem-solving, as well as recent innovations in materials, technology and tools.

Mechanical engineers can work in a number of different specialties, including automotive, construction, electronics, robotics, medical, military and even acoustics. They usually work in offices, but they can also be found in laboratories or on manufacturing floors.

They’re responsible for taking an idea and creating the design that makes it possible, before finally taking it to the marketplace. They can be tasked with building and implementing one specific part in a machine, one machine in an entire system, the system’s role in the entire process, or the process itself. Similar to electrical engineers, mechanical engineers can be responsible for the big and the small, from satellite systems to small switches.

They focus on the practical use of engineering, touching on many facets of everyday life. These engineers design, build and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices. They also analyze problems, investigate system failures, and create prototypes and make sure they work. They work on medical devices, batteries, generators, internal combustion engines, turbines, elevators and escalators, conveyors, robotics, automobiles and other machines that use power. They work with computers, integrating sensors and control systems. Mechanical engineers are employed in a variety of different industries, including architecture, transportation and scientific research.

Like electrical engineers, they use new technology to run simulations and test their work, including CAD, computer-aided engineering (CAE) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

The median salary for a mechanical engineer is $88,430.2 Mechanical engineers need the listening and collaboration skills to be able to work with architects, computer scientists and others experts. They must also know everything from centuries-old techniques to cutting-edge technologies. Mechanical engineers still use tried and true tools such as wheels, axles and levers, but they also need to understand the critical components of electrical, structural, aerospace and computer engineering.

Decide Your Next Career Step

No matter what career path you decide to pursue, earning your master’s can set you apart from the crowd. At the Case School of Engineering, find the graduate program that fits your career goals: Master of Engineering, Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering or Master of Science in Systems and Control Engineering. Gain the technical skills to be up to date on the latest research and technology, as well as the communication and leadership skills needed to work alongside engineers and experts from across disciplines

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.