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What is Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is an exciting field of engineering because it encompasses all engineering aspects of almost everything that moves in the universe. We invite you to explore how you might contribute to advancing the frontiers in the field of Mechanical Engineering. As a mechanical engineer you can be trained to help address and solve some of the world’s most pressing issues and problems such as energy, health engineering, environment, robotics and advanced manufacturing, transportation on the ground, in the air, in and under water and in outer space – just to name a few from a long list of challenges facing our society. The cars  and vehicles that we drive or ride on, the airplanes that we fly in, the ships, hovercrafts and submarines that we travel in and the space ships that take us to outer space and other planets are all mostly designed by Mechanical Engineers. However, that is just a subset of everything that Mechanical Engineers create.

Mechanical engineers apply scientific methods to the solution of engineering problems. Mechanical Engineering teaches you design, analysis and simulation techniques to realize ideas and dreams and improve life on earth. It also teaches you how to create and realize next generation products, systems and organizations. Our faculty and students create new knowledge as they study and analyze what we already know.

University of Maine’s Mechanical Engineering Department is dedicated to academic excellence in all our course offerings and in our research programs. We engage our students in challenging and rewarding work as soon as they decide to explore Mechanical Engineering. We also engage our graduate students in cutting edge research with broad interactions among the group disciplines in the department and beyond. University of Maine’s Mechanical Engineering Department is an ideal environment for students who have proven to be the best and the brightest; those who are prepared and eager for the challenge.

Mechanical engineers are concerned with the principles of motion, energy, field interactions and force. Generally, a machine converts one form of energy or movement into another. It is the responsibility of engineers to design machines whose parts and assemblies function in a safe and reliable, efficient, and predictable fashion.  Indeed, the numerous laws and principles developed by scientists are the everyday tools of the mechanical engineer. Anything the engineer does that is related to the motion and dynamics of heat, gas, air, fluids, plasmas, solid materials, smart structures and robotics requires the understanding and application of the underlying basic science. On the other hand such analysis of motion, energy, fields interactions and force also applies to health engineering such as designing heart assist devices, artificial hearts, robotic surgeons, artificial muscles, smart structures, systems and devices, bionic vision and medical implants and devices.

Mechanical engineering encompasses many specialties. Mechanical engineers design advanced and smart materials, structures and systems to meet the demands of manufacturing industries, aerospace industries including supersonic and hypersonic space travel, marine, ocean engineering and maritime industries including design of ships, hovercrafts, submarines and aircraft carriers, robotics,  medical fields, the nuclear energy field, the design of electrical power plants equipped with reactors, pressure piping, heat exchangers, and other specialized components. In the automobile, aerospace, outer space and marine  industry, mechanical engineers design the various parts of a car, a ship, a space ship, a submarine and in manufacturing companies, they develop computer systems that improve, automate and speed up the production process and perform intelligent, agile and just-in-time manufacturing and rapid prototyping. Some mechanical engineers work in areas not usually considered to require engineering skills. Efforts to clean up and preserve the earth’s environment have attracted many mechanical engineers to projects involving the treatment of water, soil, and waste material. Mechanical engineers are committed to environmentally conscious design and manufacturing.  Mechanical engineers also work alongside physicians, therapists, and other medical professionals to investigate the workings of the human body and to design aids, instruments, implants and robotic systems for medicine and surgery. Mechanical engineers also learn from nature (Biomimetics) to design biologically-inspired engineering systems (BIES) and biologically-inspired robotic devices and systems (BIRDS). Other mechanical engineers work closely with trainers, coaches, and athletes on the design of sporting equipment. It would be hard to find an area or object in everyday life that was not in some way affected by mechanical engineers.

Mechanical engineering has evolved into a profession that requires specific skills acquired through education and training. It begins in high school, where students enroll in certain courses that will prepare them for acceptance into engineering programs at a college of university. The emphasis at the high school level is on mathematics. Two years of algebra are generally required as are courses in geometry and trigonometry. Calculus is recommended, but usually not required.

High school students should also take one year each of chemistry and physics, including laboratory work in both courses, and four years of English.

Beyond the core requirements, high school students are encouraged to take biology, mechanical drawing and computer courses. The study of a foreign languages is highly recommended, as today’s global economy is creating exciting engineering career opportunities in foreign countries.

There are activities outside the classroom for students interested in engineering careers. High school clubs are an excellent opportunity to join together with students of like-minded interests and aspirations. Clubs also provide career preparation, as many of today’s engineering professionals work in teams or groups. Some high school clubs sponsor day trips to companies, where students can see engineers in actual work environments.

Universities offer four-year programs in mechanical engineering. Students study advanced mathematics, calculus, chemistry, and physics among the core courses. They are also required to develop a proficiency in using a computer. By their sophomore year, college students take specialized mechanical engineering courses including fluid dynamics, materials science, robotics, manufacturing processes, thermodynamics and heat transfer, and environmental science and environmentally conscious design and manufacturing. Mechanical engineering students also learn about computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and they get involved in authentic design projects.

Many mechanical engineers go on to enter master’s or doctoral programs, which, in addition to continued classroom study, include such activities as laboratory research and computational analysis.

Towards A Career

Mechanical engineers work in industry, consulting practices, universities, and government research. The vast majority are employed in industry at equipment manufacturers, aerospace companies, auto industries, ocean engineering, utilities, material processing plants, transportation companies, petroleum companies, and a host of other firms large and small. We also train and encourage them to start their own business as an engineering or entrepreneurial firm.

Job functions and responsibilities range from basic research and systems design to industrial operations and quality control. Some mechanical engineers cross over into corporate sales and management positions that require scientific and technical skills and expertise.

The consulting side of the business offers mechanical engineers career opportunities in large and small engineering service firms and in private practice. Some engineers start a consulting practice later in life, often following long careers with a corporation.

The love of teaching and desire to influence future generations of engineers motivate some mechanical engineers to academic careers. Engineers in colleges and universities serve other roles beside that of instructor of tutor. They direct important research activities, manage laboratories, develop curricula., and write and publish books and technical papers.

Mechanical engineers involved in government research assist on key policy decisions regarding technology development and use. For example, engineers working with the U.S. Departments of Defense,  Energy, Transportation, Homeland Security and other government agencies such as NASA, NSF, NIH and EPA conduct research into solar energy, advanced materials, radioactive waste removal, magnetic-levitation trains, and space missions to the planet Mars – research that will have a direct impact on American business and the lives of American business and the lives of American people in the years ahead.

It is critical for mechanical engineers to continue the educational process beyond college graduation. Technology changes at a rapid pace. In the years following graduation, the mechanical engineer will discover that continuous improvement in their engineering skills and methodologies learned in college become important.

Keeping Up

To stay abreast of new developments in the field, mechanical engineers read trade journals, attend national and international conferences, and enroll in professional engineer (P.E.) refresher courses and professional development programs. It is important to mention that the future of health engineering will also be impacted by the advances made in mechanical engineering education and research.

Professional societies play an important role in getting information to the mechanical engineer. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) holds conferences, publishes journals, and sponsors short courses across the broad range of mechanical engineering disciplines.

For more information, write:

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Education Department
345 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017