Mechanical engineers are crucial in an ever-advancing world, but many might not know what they do precisely. It’s easy to use the amazing products they create, but understanding the work that goes into them is not easy.
Without mechanical engineers, we wouldn’t have gas turbines, aircraft engines, wind turbines, many medical devices, or even modern internal combustion engines. If it has a moving part, most likely, a mechanical engineer designed it.
So what are the five key tasks mechanical engineers perform to create something incredible? They analyze a problem, design, develop, test and analyze the results, and finally, oversee the whole manufacturing process.
Table of Contents
Analyze a Problem
Every product starts as a solution to a problem. Those problems addressed could be getting to work faster, being bored, saving more lives, or needing a more efficient robot on the factory floor.
Using the principles of motion, energy, and force, mechanical engineers address the problem in front of them and ask themselves if there is a possible mechanical or thermal device to solve it. It takes tremendous creativity, problem-solving skills, knowledge of how things work, and analytical tools to envision what might be a solution.
Envisioning a solution could involve their deep understanding of electricity, thermodynamics, mechanics, dynamics, or structural analysis.
Some famous examples of mechanical engineers creating solutions would be:
- Johannes Gutenberg: Famous for the printing press and for bringing knowledge to the world.
- Karl Benz: Few things are more impactful on our lives than the automobile and the first internal combustion engine created by Karl Benz.
- Nikola Tesla: Among so many of Tesla’s creations, don’t hesitate to thank him for A/C energy and X-Ray technology.
- Charles Babbage: Nicknamed the “Father of the Computer,” Babbage invented the first mechanical computer in 1831. Despite never finishing it, it inspired engineers to create the electronic devices used today. In 2000, a recreated version of Babbage’s design was able to calculate math problems up to 31 digits long.
Design the Solution
The next step in the process of creating a solution or improving an older one is the design which involves:
- Background research
- Specifying the requirements
- Brainstorming, evaluating, and choosing a solution that looks like the right fit
- Develop and prototype a solution
After further research identifies an initial solution and how it might be modeled best, the actual work to model and build it comes.
The development process starts with design software as the mechanical product is generated in a computer-aided design (CAD) program, modeled, and virtually tested before even going to test manufacturing.
Once a design is specified, initial prototypes are produced. Where this process was once very expensive, 3-D printing has been a game changer. A prototype can be designed, printed, and tested in very little time.
Test and Analyze the Results
Once the product comes out of design as a prototype, testing begins. That testing involves accumulating real-world data on efficiency and design quality as well as end-users’ opinions.
Often, a small trial group of potential end users will be contacted and asked to use the product in an appropriate environment under real-world conditions. The product shouldn’t be in a scooter plant if it is designed for car manufacturing.
The interaction between users and the solution is observed and recorded. People are closely watched through every part of the interaction. Observing how they react, navigate the product, and what they say is crucial.
Here are some questions mechanical engineers ask:
- Are the users able to overcome the initial problem with the solution?
- How many questions do they ask, or how much guidance is needed to utilize the product?
- Are they interacting in precisely the way intended?
- Did the product meet its measurable targets?
After testing and analysis, the mechanical engineer might go back to redesign if any problems occurred or polish aspects of the design that were more successful than anticipated.
Once a final product is in place, testing will often continue in-house to simulate extensive use and how that impacts the product. That scenario will identify the effective lifespan of the design to see if it requires further modification.
Oversee the Manufacturing Process
Manufacturing is a complex process, especially for new products or complete redesigns. New manufacturing equipment made to detailed specifications is often necessary. Operators need training, the manufacturing floor designed, potential bottlenecks identified, and additional testing of machines and product quality instituted throughout the manufacturing process.
“No one knows their design, needs, and standards better than the mechanical engineer that created the solution, so continued involvement throughout the manufacturing process ensures quality,” says Hazim Gaber, mechanical engineer and CEO of HSM Global and ehZee Engineering Corporation.
No one creates a solution to watch poor manufacturing destroy its usefulness.
Mechanical Engineers are Awesome
Most of the creations we use every day come from mechanical engineers, who make our lives better with every new solution.
Their job is exciting, invites creativity and analysis, and significantly benefits our world.