Mechanical engineering is a broad discipline, focusing on the design, development and testing of mechanically functioning equipment used in manufacturing and energy production. Work is found in areas like agricultural production, machine tools, material-handling systems, heating and air conditioning, robotics and more.
The wide range of career options includes biotechnology, energy efficiency and other emerging technologies. By boosting their credentials through advanced degrees and experience, mechanical engineers may shift their focus to technical sales, consulting, management and education.
Earning degrees in mechanical engineering
Associate degrees in mechanical engineering cover vital basic theories and concepts in the field, typically with courses in technical drafting, computer aided design, thermal systems and fluid mechanics. Two-year programs in engineering technology may feature hands-on laboratory classes with an emphasis on practical applications such as production work.
A four-year curriculum may offer both core courses and subject specializations to prepare students for careers, with courses such as manufacturing systems, robotics, electromechanical devices, and control systems, materials and nanotechnology, biomedical engineering, alternate energy sources, chemistry and coating polymers. All states require mechanical engineers to hold professional licenses based on education, work experience and an examination. Many jobs require a bachelor's degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mechanical engineering career outlook and salary
The BLS projects an 8.8 percent increase in jobs in the competitive field of mechanical engineering during the 2010-2020 decade. Employers are expected to seek professionals who can integrate advances in biotechnology, materials science and nanotechnology into manufacturing and other sectors.
In 2010, the median annual wage was $78,160, with top earners taking home $119,000. The BLS found high numbers of these engineers working in scientific research and development, government, and manufacturing for aerospace products and navigational instruments; top-paying industries included oil and gas extraction as well as commercial and industrial machinery and equipment services.
Where is mechanical engineering going?
Job growth should be stimulated by new technologies and an increased use of composite and nontraditional materials by manufacturing firms, the BLS reports. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers lists emerging sub-fields such as these:
- Applied mechanics
- Engineering and industrial management
Online mechanical engineering programs routinely update their specialized curriculum to align with industry needs and challenges. In earning online associate degrees in mechanical engineering, students can fit flexible class schedules into existing work and family commitments.