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Is Mechanical Engineering for Me?

  1. Nov 12, 2014 #1
    Hey guys. So here's my story (and I'm sticking to it! - current career joke). Back in high school I had thought that a career working on cars was my dream job. I went to Lincoln College of Technology at 17 and when I realized how big of a waste of money it was I left (with a 3.8). Moved around a bit since then working different jobs and trying to understand what I wanted to do with myself. I found my wife and got my current job and it has been my longest reign of employment. My wife loathes her job so i talked her in to going to school for her passion. She's going to college to be a veterinarian (vet tech first then vet) and she's not so great with math. Helping her do her algebra has helped me realize that I love doing math and I'm pretty good (maybe even great) at it. This tied in with my love of working with my hands (building, fixing, making, etc), along with a better understanding of truly living on my own steam and the value of money, has brought the idea of mechanical engineering to mind. Am I wrong? What is mechanical engineering really like? What do you guys do at work? Do you enjoy it? I'm 24 years old and if I start school next year I could have a ME in 5 years time. Thank you in advance for your input.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2014 #2
    ME might very well be for you (or it might not). Most MEs do not actually build things, but they do design and supervise construction and operation of machines. (Machinists, millwrights, and techs do the actual construction.)

    ME involves a lot of math and spatial thinking (geometry). It also involves a lot of physics (statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials/elasticity). The use of CAD is very common, both for design and as an input tool for finite element stress and deflection analysis (also heat transfer and fluid flow).
  4. Nov 14, 2014 #3
    So is there any engineering field that's more hands on or is it just design? Math and spacial thinking sound like I would enjoy it enough but I'd still like hands on work.
  5. Nov 14, 2014 #4


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    One area that tends to be much more hands on (and requires just about the same academic prep as any other) is maintenance engineering. These guys definitely get dirty and have to get into the pit with the workmen to see what is going on, what the problem really is, and determine a fix. The employers are both governmental (like municipal power companies, utilities, etc.) and private industry (refineries, smelters, etc.).
  6. Nov 14, 2014 #5
    Hmm, unfortunately UD doesn't offer Maintenance Engineering. The idea of designing mechanical systems is still appealing. Say, as a ME, I would be able to create things in my own time? Such as small patents and inventions? Also, when you mention spatial thinking do you mean the ability to picture an object in your mind in 3 dimensions? Like how I picture my Rubick's cube's sides to solve it? When I research ME it doesn't mention geometry as a necessary attribute (not that I'm bad at geometry, just curious). Is aerospace engineering hands on at all? UD offers a concentration of aerospace for its BS ME.
  7. Nov 15, 2014 #6


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    Maintenance Engineering is not something you would major in, but rather it is a job type. An ME, EE, Civil, or ChemE degree might be the right background, depending on where you would want to work. With an ME degree doing maintenance work, you might be maintaining large machines (steam turbines, rolling mills, off-road trucks and dozers, etc). At one time, I worked with an EE doing maintenance in a steel mill on the mill electrical systems. Civil maintenance might involve maintaining dams, retaining wall, and other structures. And so on it goes.
  8. Nov 15, 2014 #7
    To elaborate on what OldEngr63 is getting at, there are three broad forms of engineering: Research, Production, and Maintenance.

    Research engineers design things that nobody has ever built before. The prototype usually isn't perfect. Production Engineering is where you design things that have been built before, and you try to refine the design. Maintenance engineering is where you look at the product in the field, and you figure out what got past the previous two generations of engineers to discover failure modes, and to improve designs.

    Maintenance engineering is often quite subtle. There is a forensic component to it as well. You have to be very observant and quite aware of the entirety of a design to do this work. Those who come from the bottom half of the class won't last long in this endeavor.
  9. Nov 15, 2014 #8
    Thank you Jake for that description. It really cleared that up for me and has me certain that I'm going to pursue mechanical engineering. Now should I just go straight ME or should I take the concentration in aerospace. UD only offers Biomechanical as a minor (doesn't interest me) and the aero concentration.
  10. Nov 15, 2014 #9
    Aeronautical Engineering is basically the mechanical engineering program with a focus on the more esoteric aspects of fluid dynamics. You'll study things such as supersonic compressible flows, thermodynamics of a sonic shock wave, fluid modeling, and so forth. You may think that this doesn't matter if you're designing subsonic aircraft, but the effects actually start manifesting themselves at surprisingly slow speeds. There are also studies of various airfoil shapes and how they perform. This has more application than just aircraft. All rotating blowers, compressors, fans, and the like have to work with these dynamics. So this has plenty of application beyond just aircraft.

    Consider it a significant branch of applied mechanical engineering, in much the same way that telecommunications engineering is a branch of electrical engineering
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