If you’re thinking of majoring in mechanical engineering, one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees , then you might wonder what to expect from your undergraduate studies. Traditionally, coursework in a bachelor’s degree curriculum is less focused than what you would find in a master’s degree program. This is particularly true for the discipline of mechanical engineering, which is among the broadest fields of engineering, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You need to learn the breadth of the field before you can delve more deeply into one or more narrow areas of concentration. However, even at the bachelor’s level, many mechanical engineering programs offer concentrations or academic tracks in subsections like manufacturing, mechanical design, transportation and vehicle systems and energy systems and the environment.
Manufacturing Concentrations in Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers play an important part in the manufacturing industries. Three of the top five industries for employment of mechanical engineers are in manufacturing, according to the BLS. Machinery manufacturing accounts for 14 percent of jobs in the field, transportation equipment manufacturing for 11 percent of jobs and computer and electronic product manufacturing for 7 percent of jobs. If you’re a mechanical engineering student with an interest in manufacturing, you can feel confident that this concentration will help you with your career.
If you choose to pursue an academic track in manufacturing, some of your topics of study might include manufacturing processes, statistical methods in design and manufacturing, mechanical design and mechatronics.
Focusing on Mechanical Design
Mechanical design may seem redundant in the field of mechanical engineering. Don’t all mechanical engineers work in mechanical design by definition?
As a distinct field of study within mechanical engineering, mechanical design refers to the early stages of the product development design process, as opposed to later work such as adjusting the manufacturing processes used to mass-produce the product. Specialists in mechanical design focus on developing the concept of the product, fleshing out this idea to a detailed design and planning for the manufacturing processes and quality control measures that will be used in production.
In this concentration, you might take classes in mechanical design principles and practices, simulation and design of mechatronic systems, engineering applications of dynamics and internal combustion engines.
Studies in Transportation and Vehicle Systems
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Transportation is another industry that depends on mechanical engineers.
Two of the possible transportation-related concentrations you might pursue in mechanical engineering are transportation systems and ground vehicle systems. The study of transportation systems examines the planning, design and environmental impact of transportation systems and policy. Although you’re approaching this field from the perspective of a mechanical engineer – and taking relevant mechanical engineering courses in topics like vehicle stability and combustion engines – this field of study is more interdisciplinary in nature. Mechanical engineering students interested in transportation systems may take classes in the field of civil engineering that pertain to transportation policy, transportation system operations, energy and environmental impact of transportation systems, air pollution and structural analysis.
The study of ground vehicle systems focuses more narrowly on the design of vehicles, rather than transportation systems. In this field, you might focus on improving the performance of vehicle power systems like engines, as well as propulsion and dynamics. You might also work on developing vehicle systems and structures out of lightweight materials. Reducing the environmental impact of ground vehicles, such as by developing vehicles that use fewer resources or alternative fuel sources, is another important part of this field. Some of the classes you should expect to take when focusing on ground vehicle systems include vehicle stability, stability and control of aerospace vehicles, the stability of flexible dynamic systems and propulsion.
In fact, there’s an entire subfield of the mechanical engineering occupation, auto research engineering, that emphasizes the development of ways to improve the performance and features of cars, according to the BLS.
Concentrating on Energy Systems and the Environment
If you have an interest in green power sources and the environment, you might focus your mechanical engineering education on an academic track like combustion and the environment or heat transfer, thermodynamics and energy systems. In a concentration in combustion and the environment, you would focus on bringing an emphasis on sustainability and environmentally friendly improvements to the combustion systems used in vehicle engines, furnaces and other applications. Your career might revolve around looking for ways to make traditional combustion engines more efficient (to reduce wasted resources) and reduce the pollution they cause in the form of emissions. You will take classes on the workings of internal combustion engines, the impact of combustion on the environment and air pollution.
Energy systems is another eco-friendly area of emphasis in mechanical engineering, but succeeding in this field requires knowledge of the principles of heat transfer and thermodynamics. Students pursuing this track may take classes in the fundamentals of heat transfer, introductory studies of HVAC systems, combustion, propulsion, and sustainable power generation.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of concentrations in undergraduate mechanical engineering programs. Other areas of emphasis include system dynamics and control, biomedical and engineering fluid mechanics, robotics and cryogenics.
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