School Subjects: English, Mathematics, Physics
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative Technical/scientific
Work Environment: Primarily indoors
Primarily one location: Minimum Education Level Associate’s degree
Salary Range: $25,000 to $40,910 to $65,500
Certification or Licensing: Voluntary
Outlook: About as fast as the average
Mechanical engineering technicians work under the direction of mechanical engineers to design, build, maintain, & modify many kinds of machines, mechanical devices, & tools. They work in a wide range of industries & in a variety of specific jobs within every industry.
Mechanical engineering technicians review mechanical drawings & project instructions, analyze design plans to determine costs & practical value, sketch rough layouts of proposed machines or parts, assemble new or modified devices or components, test completed assemblies or components, analyze test results, & write reports.
Mechanical engineering dates back to ancient times, when it was used almost exclusively for military purposes. The Romans were the first to use the science for nonmilitary projects, such as aqueducts, roads, & bridges, although many if not most of these structures were built to advance military objectives.
With the advent of the industrial revolution & the use of machines for manufacturing, mechanical engineering technology took a giant step forward. One of the most important figures in this revolution was Eli Whitney. Having received a government contract in 1798 to produce 15,000 muskets, he hired not gunsmiths, but mechanics. At that time, all articles, including muskets, were built one by one by individual craftsworkers. No two muskets were ever alike.
Whitney took a different approach. For two years after receiving the contract, he focused on developing & building special-purpose machines, & then trained mechanics to make specific parts of the gun. When he was finished, Whitney had invented new machine tools & attachments, such as the milling machine & jig, made real the concept of interchangeable parts, & paved the way for the modern manufacturing assembly line.
This manufacturing process required not only ingenious inventors & skilled mechanics to operate the machines, but also skilled assistants to help develop new machines, set or reset tolerances, maintain & repair operational equipment, & direct, supervise, & instruct workers. These assistants are today’s mechanical engineering technicians, a crucial part of the engineering team. In addition to manufacturing, they are employed in almost every application that uses mechanical principles.
Mechanical engineering technicians are employed in a broad range of industries. Technicians may specialize in any one of many areas including biomedical equipment, measurement & control, products manufacturing, solar energy, turbo machinery, energy resource technology, & engineering materials & technology.
Within each application, a technician may be involved with various aspects of the work. One phase is research & development. In this area, the mechanical technician may assist an engineer or scientist in the design & development of anything from a ballpoint pen to a sophisticated measuring device. These technicians prepare rough sketches & layouts of the project being developed.
In the design of an automobile engine, for example, engineering technicians make drawings that detail the fans, pistons, connecting rods, & fly wheels to be used in the engine. They estimate cost & operational qualities of each part, taking into account friction, stress, strain, & vibration. By performing these tasks, they free the engineer to accomplish other research activities.
A second common type of work for mechanical engineering technicians is testing. For products such as engines, motors, or other moving devices, technicians may set up prototypes of the equipment to be tested & run performance tests. Some tests require one procedure to be done repeatedly, while others require that equipment be run over long periods of time to observe any changes in operation. Technicians collect & compile all necessary data from the testing procedures & prepare reports for the engineer or scientist.
In order to manufacture a product, preparations must be made for its production. In this effort, mechanical engineering technicians assist in the product design by making final design layouts & detailed drawings of parts to be manufactured & of any special manufacturing equipment needed. Some test & inspect machines & equipment or work with engineers to eliminate production problems.
Other mechanical engineering technicians examine plans & drawings to determine what materials are needed & prepare lists of these materials, specifying quality, size, & strength. They also may estimate labor costs, equipment life, & plant space needed. After the product is manufactured, some mechanical engineering technicians may help solve storage & shipping problems, while others assist in customer relations when product installation is required.
Some engineering technicians work with tool designers, who pre pare sketches of designs for cutting tools, jigs, special fixtures, & other devices used in mass production. Frequently, they redesign existing tools to improve their efficiency.
Preparation for this career begins in high school. Although entrance requirements to associate programs vary somewhat from school to school, mathematics & physical science form the backbone of a good preparatory curriculum. Classes should include algebra, geometry, science, computer science, mechanical drawing, shop, & communications.
Associate’s degree or two-year mechanical technician programs are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions. Most pro grams accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology offer one year of a basic program with a chance to specialize in the second year. The first year of the program generally consists of courses in college algebra & trigonometry, science, & communication skills. Other classes introduce students to the manufacturing processes, drafting, & language of the industry.
The second year’s courses focus on mechanical technology. These include fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, tool & machine design, instruments & controls, production technology, electricity, & electronics. Many schools allow their students to choose a major in the second year of the program, which provides training for a specific area of work in the manufacturing industry.
Certification or Licensing
Many mechanical engineering technicians choose to become certified by the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies. To become certified, a technician must combine a specific amount of job-related experience with a written examination. Certifications are offered at several levels of expertise. Such certification is generally voluntary, although obtaining certification shows a high level of commitment & dedication that employers find highly desirable.
Mechanical engineering technicians are encouraged to become affiliated with professional groups, such as the American Society of Certified Engineering Technicians, that offer continuing education sessions for members. Some mechanical engineering technicians may be required to belong to unions.
To work as a mechanical engineering technician, you need mathematical & mechanical aptitude. You will need to understand abstract concepts & apply scientific principles to problems in the shop or lab oratory, in both the design & the manufacturing process. You should be interested in people & machines & have the ability to carry out detailed work. You should be able to analyze sketches & drawings & possess patience, perseverance, & resourcefulness. Additionally, you must have good communication skills & be able to present both spoken & written reports.
You may be able to obtain part-time or summer work in a machine shop or factory. This type of work usually consists of sweeping floors & clearing out machine tools, but it will also give you an opportunity to view the field firsthand & also demonstrates your interest to future employers. Field trips to industrial laboratories, drafting studios, or manufacturing facilities can offer overall views of this type of work. Hobbies like automobile repair, model making, & electronic kit assembling can also be helpful. Finally, if you are in high school & interested in the engineering field, consider joining JETS, the Junior Engineering Technical Society.
Many engineering technicians work in durable goods manufacturing, primarily making electrical & electronic machinery & equipment, industrial machinery & equipment, instruments & related products, & transportation equipment. A sizable percentage work in service industries, mostly in engineering & business services companies that do contract work for government, manufacturing, & other organizations.
The federal government employs engineering technicians in the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Agriculture, & Interior, as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority & the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. State & municipal governments also employ engineering technicians.
Schools offering associate’s degrees in mechanical engineering technology & two-year technician programs usually help graduates find employment. At most colleges, in fact, company recruiters interview prospective graduates during their final semester of school. As a result, many students receive job offers before graduation. Other graduates may prefer to apply directly to employers, use newspaper classified ads, or apply through public or private employment services.
As mechanical engineering technicians remain with a company, they become more valuable to the employer. Opportunities for advancement are available to those who are willing to accept greater responsibilities either by specializing in a specific field, taking on more technically complex assignments, or by assuming supervisory duties. Some technicians advance by moving into technical sales or customer relations. Mechanical technicians who further their education may choose to become tool designers or mechanical engineers.
Salaries for mechanical engineering technicians vary depending on the nature & location of the job, employer, amount of training the technician has received, & number of years of experience.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual salary for mechanical engineering technicians was $40,010 in 2001. In general, mechanical engineering technicians s develop & test machinery & equipment under the direction of an engineering staff earn between $30,000 & $50,000 a year. Mechanical engineering technicians at the start of their careers earned around $25,000 a year or less, while senior technicians with specialized skills & experience earned much more, between $50,000 & $65,000 a year.
These salaries are based upon the standard 40-hour workweek. Overtime or premium time pay may be earned for work beyond regular daytime hours or workweek. Other benefits, depending on the company & union agreements, include paid vacation days, insurance, retirement plans, profit sharing, & tuition-reimbursement plans.
Mechanical engineering technicians work in a variety of conditions, depending on their field of specialization. Technicians who specialize in design may find that they spend most of their time at the drafting board or computer. Those who specialize in manufacturing may spend some time at a desk, but also spend considerable time in manufacturing areas or shops.
Conditions also vary according to industry. Some industries require technicians to work in foundries, die-casting rooms, machine shops, assembly areas, or punch-press areas. Most of these areas, however, are well lighted, heated, & ventilated. Moreover, most industries employing mechanical engineering technicians have strong safety programs.
Mechanical engineering technicians are often called upon to exercise decision-making skills, to be responsible for valuable equipment, & to act as effective leaders. At other times they carry out routine, uncomplicated tasks. Similarly, in some cases, they may coordinate the activities of others, while at other times, they are the ones supervised. They must be able to respond well to both types of demands. In return for this flexibility & versatility, mechanical engineering technicians are usually highly respected by their employers & co workers.
Job opportunities for mechanical engineering technicians are expect ed to grow about as fast as the average over the next several years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Manufacturing companies will be looking for more ways to apply the advances in mechanical technology to their operations. Opportunities will be best for technicians who are skilled in new manufacturing concepts, materials, & designs. Many job openings also will be created by people retiring or leaving the field.
However, the employment outlook for engineering technicians is influenced by the economy. Hiring will fluctuate with the ups & downs of the nation’s overall economic situation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For information on colleges & universities offering accredited pro grams in engineering technology, contact
Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology
111 Market Place, Suite 1050
Baltimore, MD 2 1202-4012
For information about membership in this professional society for engineering technicians, contact
American Society of Certified Engineering Technicians
PU Box 1348
Flowery Branch, GA 30542
For information about the field of mechanical engineering, contact
American Society of Mechanical Engineers
3 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016-5990
For information on technician careers & high school programs that provide opportunities to learn about engineering technology, contact
Junior Engineering Technical Society
1420 King Street, Suite 405
Alexandria, VA 22314
For information on certification, contact
National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies
1420 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-2794