Have you ever dreamed of building a robot or designing an aircraft? Have a passion for racing cars and want to be part of a Formula 1 development team? Maybe you’re fascinated by nanotechnology, developments in cleaner and more efficient energy use, or even the study of sound pollution and sound-proofing. Want to make a contribution to the development of sustainable energy or be a part of the creation of more advanced forms of artificial intelligence? If any of the above grabs your attention, then maybe you should consider a mechanical engineering career – starting with a mechanical engineering degree.
Common skills gained from a mechanical engineering degree include:
As the list above should indicate, mechanical engineering degrees offer a wide range of specializations to choose from, with diverse opportunities to contribute to the next stage in the development of modern technology. At undergraduate level, students will start with an introduction to key mechanical engineering topics, such as statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, stress analysis, mechanical design and technical drawing. As the course progresses, there should be more opportunities to specialize in a particular field within which mechanical engineering skills are applied, such as vehicle design, robotics, nanotechnology or energy.
There’s a lot of overlap between mechanical engineering topics and other engineering fields, particularly civil and structural engineering, electrical engineering and aeronautical engineering. Applicants to all engineering degrees are expected to have a strong background in mathematics and physics, which provide the basic foundations for most mechanical engineering skills.
Entry requirements will vary between different institutions. However, all universities will expect those applying for mechanical engineering degrees to have a strong academic background in mathematics and physics, with other sciences such as chemistry also beneficial. If you don’t have the necessary grades, some universities offer the option to take a foundation year, which aims to provide you with the knowledge you need in order to commence a bachelor’s degree.
Mechanical engineering degrees usually last for three or four years at undergraduate level and one or two at master’s level. Graduates receive a BEng or a MEng qualification upon completion of their studies. Teaching will typically consist of lectures and seminars, with compulsory introductory courses covered during the first part of the degree, followed by opportunities to select a specialization and undertake independent or group project work. Assessment is likely to be via a combination of written exams, presentations and research projects.
Mechanical engineering degrees will typically start by giving students an introduction to key mechanical engineering topics such as statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, stress analysis, mechanical design and technical drawing. Having covered the basics, you may choose one of the following areas in which to specialize.
Mechanical engineers are heavily involved in the design, improvement and of transportation systems – including systems that operate on road, rail, water and in the air. Students may choose to specialize in a particular mode of transport, and should also learn about current challenges and areas for improvement, emerging technologies, related environmental issues, and transport planning strategies.
Manufacturing is another major area for mechanical engineers, who are involved in the design and operation of the machinery used in industrial production lines. This specialization would involve learning about different production processes, integration of machinery with computer systems, and applying design methodology to develop new solutions.
A third significant sector in which mechanical engineers are involved is combustion – the process of burning something. Students will learn about the uses of combustion in various sectors, including energy generation, heating and lighting, waste disposal, engines and manufacturing. Mechanical engineering students will focus on the design and operation of the mechanical systems used to facilitate and transfer the energy generated by different types of combustion reaction.
Nanotechnology is concerned with the development of new devices and structures that are well below the 1 micron size scale. Research and development in this field is seeing major investment within many sectors, with key fields including nanoelectromechanical devices (NEMS), nanoscale materials, molecular manufacturing, quantum computing, nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, and molecular biology.
Robotics integrates disciplines including electronics, mechatronics and real-time simulation to work towards the development of ever-more sophisticated robots – machines guided by electronic and computer programming – and systems by which to control and automate them. Specializing in this area could lead to mechanical engineering careers in sectors including virtual reality and artificial intelligence; manufacturing, assembly and processing; defence; communications and imaging; and medical robotics.
There are many other possible mechanical engineering specializations, many involving cross-over with a related field of study. Examples include biomedical engineering, computational engineering, materials sciences, energy conversion and welding and joining. Other mechanical engineering topics commonly included in university courses include risk assessment and quality control, product development and project management, to further prepare students for professional roles.
Mechanical engineering careers span many different sectors of society, including transport, manufacturing and industry, healthcare, food processing, communications and media, energy production and defence. Within each of these sectors, different types of roles are available, including research, product development, quality control and maintenance.
Aeronautics includes the design and manufacturing of flight-capable machines, and the techniques of operating aircraft and rockets within the atmosphere. Mechanical engineering graduates who pursue careers in aeronautics may become specialized aerospace engineers, contributing to the design and construction of new aircraft and spacecraft, including missiles and rockets.
If you wish to specialize in the rail travel sector, you are likely to work as a rail engineering technician. This means that you'll help to design, build and/or service the mechanical and electrical systems used in train engines and other types of rolling stock. You may be tasked with conducting maintenance checks and testing mechanical systems, or focus on designing new engines, carriages and parts.
The automotive sector encompasses the design and manufacturing of new road vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles and buses. As an automotive engineer, you may be focused on research and development, design, production processes or testing. You’re likely to be specialized in a particular part of automotive engineering, such as exhaust systems or structural design.
Healthcare is another popular choice for many mechanical engineering graduates. If you decide to pursue a career in this industry, you’ll have the chance to be involved in developing and improving the cutting-edge technologies used in healthcare. Again, roles here could be focused on research and development, design, testing or maintenance.
With a mechanical engineering degree you’ll also be in high demand within the military, contributing to the design, construction and repair of military vehicles and equipment. As an incorporated engineer, you would specialize in the day-to-day management of engineering operations. At chartered level, you would have a more strategic role, involving planning, researching and developing new ideas, and streamlining management methods.
As a robotics engineer you may work in the agricultural, military, medical, and manufacturing industries, among others, conceiving new uses for robots, designing improved robots for existing systems, or repairing and maintaining industrial robots. Hands-on technical jobs can easily be found in the robotics engineering field, but there are also plenty of opportunities to take on more inventive roles in experimental arenas.
More experienced mechanical engineers may choose to pursue consulting roles, working either as part of a consultancy or as an independent contractor. This means the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects at different types of organization, providing expert advice, and perhaps also taking on project management duties.
Other sectors offering lots of roles for mechanical engineers include pharmaceuticals, marine transportation, electronics, construction, new materials development, energy, chemicals and a wide range of manufacturing sectors. Meanwhile some mechanical engineering graduates will choose to apply their mechanical engineering skills within less closely related careers. The strong mathematics, technical, analytical and problem-solving skills acquired during a mechanical engineering degree are good preparation for roles in everything from IT support to financial consultancy.