When people think of mechanical engineers, they tend to envision a sort of handyman.
“They think that you’re also a mechanic, and that you want to fix anything that’s broken— especially cars and computers,” explains mechanical engineer Israr Kabir.
But that’s not really what the job entails.
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While “fixing” is certainly an aspect of the job, these experts are actually responsible for designing and overseeing the manufacturing of products ranging from auto parts to cellphones. They get to research, build and test new devices using some of the most advanced technology.
We spoke with Israr Kabir, business development manager, manufacturing, at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to find out more about the profession:
What does a mechanical engineer do?
“Mechanical engineers are the jack-of-all-trades,” says Kabir. Not only do they research, design and build products, they also analyze and test the individual parts. When it comes to building an iPhone, “that means making sure that the phone doesn’t overheat when charged and that the center button survives 1 million pushes,” he explains.
“Whether it’s estimating the cost related to a particular design or actually designing and manufacturing a product — a mechanical engineer is involved.”
What schooling do you need?
Those interested in pursuing the profession need to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, says Kabir. While it’s possible to find a job with an undergraduate degree, those who are looking to specialize — for example, robotics, nuclear energy, biomedical engineering, or aerospace — may choose to enroll in a masters program.
What’s the typical salary?
The median annual salary for mechanical engineers is $84,190, according to the most recent reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made more than $131,350, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $54,420.
While everyone continues to panic about robots stealing their jobs, mechanical engineers can rest easy. “We’d actually be designing and building that robot, if you think about it,” says Kabir.
“Because of the level of thought required — there’s a lot of in-depth thinking from a technical and mathematical standpoint— it’s not really a job that could be easily automated.”
Plus, “companies are always looking for mechanical engineers,” he continues. Those entering the field have their pick of industries, thanks to the variety of businesses that employ mechanical engineers, such as consumer products, energy mining, and even hardware startups.
Mechanical engineers have one of the greatest job perks: They get to use their creativity.
They also get to witness firsthand some of the cutting-edge technologies being developed, and incorporate them into their design strategy, explains Kabir. “That’s always fun.”
The biggest challenge of manufacturing products is the constant pressure to create cheaper parts, says Kabir. The time constraints are also very demanding, he explains. “When a project is assigned or a new design is requested by a customer, the delivery deadlines are usually pretty tight.”
And mechanical engineers need to get things right— the first time. “If you don’t do your calculations right or you don’t do your dimensions properly, it’s very hard to just start over,” he says.