Mechanical engineers research, develop, design, manufacture and test tools, engines, machines and other mechanical devices. They work on power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines. They also develop power-using machines such as refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment, machine tools, material handling systems, elevators and escalators, industrial production equipment and robots used in manufacturing.
Mechanical engineers design tools needed by other engineers for their work. The field of nanotechnology, which involves the creation of high-performance materials and components by integrating atoms and molecules, is introducing entirely new principles to the design process.
Computers assist mechanical engineers by accurately and efficiently performing computations and by aiding the design process by permitting the modeling and simulation of new designs. Computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) are used for design data processing and for developing alternative designs.
Mechanical engineers work in many industries, and their work varies by industry and function. Some specialties include applied mechanics; computer-aided design and manufacturing; energy systems; pressure vessels and piping; and heating, refrigeration and air-conditioning systems. Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers may work in production operations in manufacturing or agriculture, maintenance or technical sales; many are administrators or managers.
Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations though 2010. Although overall manufacturing employment is expected to grow slowly, employment of mechanical engineers in manufacturing should increase more rapidly as the demand for improved machinery and machine tools grows and industrial machinery and processes become increasingly complex. Also, emerging technologies in information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology will create new job opportunities for mechanical engineers.
Employment of mechanical engineers in business and engineering services firms is expected to grow faster than average as other industries in the economy increasingly contract out to these firms to solve engineering problems. In addition to job openings from growth, many openings should result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Mechanical engineers held about 221,000 jobs in 2000. More than half of all jobs were in manufacturing mostly in machinery, transportation equipment, electrical equipment, instruments and fabricated metal products industries. Engineering and management services, business services and the federal government provided most of the remaining jobs.
Median annual earnings of mechanical engineers were $58,710 in 2000. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of mechanical engineers in 2000 were:
Personnel supply services $81,080
According to a 2001 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates in mechanical engineering received starting offers averaging $48,426 a year, master's degree candidates had offers averaging $55,994, and Ph.D. candidates were initially offered $72,096.
For more information about mechanical engineers:
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Three Park Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.
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