Would practical courses like welding and machining be useful?

  • Thread starter MissSilvy
  • Start date
Just a quick question from a potential mech. engineering student. I'm probably going to start soon on my formal MechE classes soon but I know that to be a good engineer, you need to do more than get good grades. I've asked a lot of working MechEs about what you need to know, specifically if classes like machining and AutoCAD are necessary or useful and the older ones say "Yes, absolutely" but the younger ones seem to say that a degree and formal classes are enough. Any thoughts on the matter? And I would like to work in design in the future, not really hands-on manufacturing. Thank you and I'm sorry if this isn't the right forum for this particular question!
A problem I frequently encounter at work is students / designers not understanding the actualities of machining and what is possible in the workshop. Learning how to mill, turn, weld and so on gives you a good feel for how your designs will be turned into practice. For instance, you could be designing a product that is to be moulded, but without an understanding of how to machine the dies you can often introduce detail that is expensive, time and labour consuming to produce.

Having also worked as a design engineer I found that having practical machining skills as well as CAD were not only useful for the job, but were highly rated by my employers as showing that I was a rounded engineer that could work on a variety of different projects.

Finally, I think that machining and welding as a secondary activity to my job satisfy the inner child in me too - I actually find them enjoyable. I'd rather I had learnt that than spent more time on a paper based subject!


Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Yes - take all the shop class you can.
Welding maybe not - it's a bit more of an art, you really need practice to be able to do it.
But the lack of practical shop experience is a real problem with Mech eng today.
Because of cost, experienced staff retiring, liability concerns etc a lot of courses now have no practical shop classes at all. The result is you hire new grads who design something that is impossible to make - because the CAD system let them draw it.

Even if 'impossible' parts can be made now with SLAs or 5-axis CNC it's still useful to know how easy something would be to make while drawing it.

ps. and of course it's fun!
Aha! Thank you, that's actually exactly what the older engineers where griping about (that new grads were clueless when it came to practical and cost-effective design). I suppose I could give it a try, since I have little else to do this summer. My local community college offers the classes but my regular one does not (they do, I suppose but it's mostly theory-pen-and-paper sort of machining). If it's not too much of a hassle, could I ask for a recommendation on which courses I should take? The list offered is here:

http://goforward.harpercollege.edu/page.cfm?p=3145 [Broken]

Thank you again!
Last edited by a moderator:
I would argue that practical workshops are no where near as necessary as they once were with. Yes you have to know how the manchining processes work and its good to see them in action, but to acutally do it yourself is almost an irrelevence to design work these days.

3d parametric modelling is by far the most useful skill to have if you want to be a design engineer. I strongly belive that AutoCAD (2D drafting) has past its prime and is on its way out. It'll take quite a while to be phased out completely but everything is going parametric.

My advice would be to take machine classes if you have time, but not at the expense of say a 3d cad course or a design skills course.
If it's possible then a course that would teach you parametric CAD to design an object and then send you off to the workshop to make it would be ideal then :)

In all seriousness, of course parametric CAD is a necessity for design. And a design and manufacturing course (e.g. design for assembly + cost) is again very valuable. But personally I think it's very important to have a connection between what you're designing and how it's going to be made - not necessarily completely in depth, but at least knowing what the processes are.

From that list, Machining Processes I looks invaluable, and going on to II looks unneccessary to me.


Science Advisor
Gold Member
Yes, yes and YES!

Having a clue about how things are made, even if the technique isn't the same as what will really be used, will give you a great appreciation for the thought that goes into manufacturing (rather than just designing) something. From then on, whenever you're designing something, you'll give consideration to the poor sod who has to figure out how to make it.

By all means learn how to drive ProE or Solidworks, but this is just software (I can feel the flames now!). Learning about welding, turning, and milling gives you a real appreciation for the behaviour of materials, the tolerances achievable, and the dynamic of a jobbing workshop.

I've been qualified for 4 years now, and was lucky/thoughtful enough to have had a lot of hands-on experience beforehand. I absolutely run rings around my colleagues who have the same qualifications as me, but no experience of welding a kit car chassis, machining brake components, or doing sheet metal work.

PLEASE get as much hands on experience as you can!
I would say practical course are incredibly important. Even if you don't have to make it yourself or it can be made with SLS/SLA, knowing how parts are made can really help cut costs. You'll think more about "Do I really need that fillet there?" or "How can I make this so it will require one less machining operation?"

I'm not saying this is more or less important that being able to model a part in CAD (or do some calculations to make sure your part won't fail), but it is important. I would compare it to saying that you don't need to understand the basics of stress and strain if you have expert knowledge of FEA software. They go hand-in-hand.



Science Advisor
Absolutely. I would especially recommend a welding class if you are ever thinking of being in a position to have to call out or specify welding operations of any kind.

Time spent on a lathe and a mill will be time well spent for any soon to be designer. Learning any CAD or modelling program just makes you a monkey that can press buttons and make pretty pictures. The undelying knowledge is what makes someone a real designer.

I can't recommend it enough.


Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Non-parametric (2d) CAD is pretty much dead for mech eng. The main parametric CAD apps are Autodesk Inventor, Pro-Engineer and Solidworks - check which one your school will be using before putting a lot of effort into learning one. The principles are the same but the apps are very different to use.

Yes there are courses on engineering cost analysis and there is software that will cost estimate the parts you design based on number of operations but there is no substitute for actually having to make things.
Being a mechie after only learning stuff in front of a screen is like learning to be a pilot by only playing flight Simulator.
Last edited:
Perhaps I should clarify my position on this.

When you get into industry and even start designing things in university you do not have to know every operation upside down and inside out but you do need to know them generally.

The machine shop will have guys with decades of experience, if you want to know a practical aspect of the design such as fasable tolerances, ask them. In my experiece the only bad designs come from designers who think they know better and have an 'us and them' attitude to the machine workers.
Take the MNT 105 and MNT 110 classes this summer if you can. You will acquire a lot of useful background, in machining, welding, and materials from these two classes.


Science Advisor
Gold Member
If you don't want the production staff, field techs, or whoever to take your design and bring it back to you with the "as-built" details (inorder to change your design drawings), you need to know how they use their tools and their methods of construction.
Definitely the Machining Process courses (I vote for both, but at least the first). The folks advising you to learn parametric modelling are 100% spot on and, depending on what you're designing, it's incredibly valuable to do a history-based model that has appropriate features and dimensions for the next process step. You might, for example, want a shaft vertical when you install bearings; in that case, you see the need to add a previous set of lifting bolt holes, and you see the need to not do the balance until those holes are in, and so on.

And, in fairness, some designers don't like history-based models and wouldn't make such a strong pitch then for knowing the processes.
... I have little else to do this summer...
Consider taking a course in French Lit or philosophy. Besides equations and tolerances and material properties, etc., you need to learn 'how to learn' and how to think for yourself. Plus, you'll have more to talk about at lunch, or after work.


Gold Member
Everything that you can learn about practical processes will help you. Understanding will help your designing, but there are other practical advantages. If you bust an alternator bracket on your car, wouldn't it be nice to weld it up rather than pay a mechanic who-knows-how-much to replace it.
(And I've found that both the machining and the welding can come in very handy if you need a weapon on short notice... :uhh:)

Ranger Mike

Science Advisor
Gold Member
Pretty good advice..from above..

lets look at the total picture
for years, high precision parts have been designed in the CAD world, cutting tool paths for the maching centers have even been made using CAM ( computer assisted manufacturing) only recently has the ANSI committe approved DMIS, ( Dimensional Metrology Interface Standard) as a method of practically tying the nominal CAD model to the actual part dimensions that are produced..

in order to understand how the manufacturing process can drift to an out of tolerance condition, one must have a rudemantary understanding of the manufacturing process itself
...if you endeavor to work in the manufacturing world..in any capacity, a fundemental understanding of machining processes is critical..
Its an intersting view of where manufacturing is going over the next x years. I'm of a firm belief that eventually the human machine operator will be taken out of the equation all together; everything will be designed, tested and inspected on CAD and then manufactured with near full automation.

We've already started down this road with the paperless design of the Boeing 777 and i'd be surprised if everything in industry wasn't designed and built like that within my lifetime.

Ranger Mike

Science Advisor
Gold Member
close..Gen Electric tried this factory of the future crap in 1980..the only ones working at the palnt would be maintenance people..changing light bulbs..never happened
nor will it
like the Scarecrow said ..A BRAIN!!!!
'Nor will it' is a slightly sweeping statement, and a bit of a bold if I might say.

It'll happen. The advances in technology in the last 30 years have been simply staggering, and I couldnt even speculate as what we'd be able to do in another 30. The human element of the manufacutring process will be eleminated at some point as machines are better at this sort of thing.

Well I think this thread has been successfully hijacked.

Want to reply to this thread?

"Would practical courses like welding and machining be useful?" You must log in or register to reply here.

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving