The work of mechanical engineers helps solve to some of today’s most pressing problems – or leads to future solutions – in everything from transportation and health care to climate change, world hunger, and space exploration.
John Yokley of PTFS, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Maryland explains that mechanical engineering not only creates new technology but perfects design for hundreds of projects and manufactures even more. The field works on both small and large-scale projects, from tiny microgrids to modern power systems that run the globe’s electricity.
It also comes with dozens of interesting subfields, including aerospace, biotechnology, cybersecurity, and robotics. And that’s just scratching the surface. Looking to specialize in mechanical engineering? You’ve got a lot of options.
Popular Specialties Within Mechanical Engineering
It may not sound sexy, but computational engineering is highly valued around the world. The aerospace, automotive, and bioengineering industries all rely on computational engineering, which typically involves simulation software-led design.
It’s also exciting since it’s an emerging field that keeps growing quickly as technology advances. Computational engineers are masters of software tools for design but can also focus on how practical those designs can be.
Renewable Energy Engineering
Speaking of being highly valued globally, another mechanical engineering specialization growing rapidly is renewable energy. These engineers work on the future of sustainable growth through advanced technology in all areas of renewable energy, solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric.
Renewable energy engineers work to design machines and systems that capture and distribute renewable energy created from wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal resources. These engineers are behind advancements in the world’s electric power system and coming up with forward-thinking solutions for renewable energy. Environmental projects include the development of solutions that provide clean energy sources and green solutions for the world’s energy needs.
Renewable energy engineers can get a degree in chemical, industrial, mechanical, or electrical engineering, but regardless of the focus on sustainability and reducing the use of oil and gas that are adding significate carbon to our atmosphere and contributing to the serious climate change issue that must be resolved to ensure our planet will be able to sustain human life for the long-term.
Fluid mechanics may not come to mind when thinking of biomedical engineering, but the subfield plays a vital role in the mechanical engineering specialty. Biomedical engineers work on researching blood circulation and its role in disease development, but also help design new equipment and computer systems with the potential to save lives every day.
A growing biomedical engineering subfield is a stem cell and tissue engineering. Biomedical engineers are found in research labs and on college campuses as faculty members.
How cool is it to get to build human-like robots? To be fair, robotics engineering is more about creating new machines that easily replicate the actions of humans across multiple industries, including mining, automotive, and hospitality.
Robotics engineers not only design new machines’ they regularly test and build them — and control the software that makes them work. Robotic engineers also often research such related robotics fields as nanotechnology.
For those especially interested in automotive technology, there’s always its own mechanical engineering specialty. Automotive engineers are leaders in making sure cars work well but also get to design brand new vehicles and the advanced technology that powers them. Automotive directly applies math skills to the production and design of vehicles — including disciplines such as fuel economy, safety engineering, and vehicle electronics. A very important up and coming area is the design and production of electric vehicles of all sorts, boats, cars, trucks, and someday airplanes.
Automotive engineers also often research new vehicles, investigate product failures, develop cost estimates for new cars, and assess multiple environmental and safety components of various automotive projects. Sometimes, they’re even lucky enough to draw up plans for entirely new kinds of vehicles.
While at first consideration one might not see the relationship between mechanical engineering and other engineering curriculums like chemical engineering, there are functions and needs that tie the two together quite well. It can be said that chemical engineers bridge the gap between mechanical engineers and working chemists, especially at production facilities. Chemical engineers must be familiar with the properties and loads of equipment designed by the mechanical engineer and will also need to understand the behavior of chemical compounds intended for use with this equipment.
The chemical engineer is concerned with process design and the mechanical engineer focuses more on designing the machines required to make that process a reality. The two then share a symbiotic relationship in many industries like agrochemical, pharmaceuticals, polymers, and environmental health just to name a few.
Many systems are built that require multiple types of engineers to work together. As an example, processes like chemical electrolysis require the combined talents of three types of engineers. Electrolysis is commercially important as a stage in the separation of elements from naturally occurring sources using an electrolytic cell. The cell actually requires the combined skills of mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineers to provide desired design results. At the end of the day, it is usually an engineering team effort to get the job done!