Mechanical Designer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A mechanical designer's median annual salary is about $54,000, but is is worth the training and education requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career outlook to decide if it's the right choice for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Being a Mechanical Designer

Mechanical designers assist engineers in developing and testing industrial machinery, equipment and other mechanical products. Reading the pros and cons below may help you decide if this career is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Mechanical Designer
Technical training or 2-year degrees sufficient for entry-level positions (23% have some college, 25% have just a high school diploma)**
Many specialization options (automobiles, aerospace products, electromedical equipment)*
Variety in daily duties (estimate costs, set up crash tests, etc.)*
Can work in different geographic locations*

Cons of Becoming a Mechanical Designer
Sluggish job growth (expected 5% growth for mechanical engineering technicians from 2012-2022)*
Possible exposure to hazardous materials*
May require additional training to advance to managerial positions*
Continuing education required to keep up with industry technology*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Mechanical designers, also referred to as mechanical design technicians, mechanical engineering technicians or drafters, use their knowledge of design and drafting to help develop and test products. Some of their specific duties might include creating drawings to scale, calculating strength of materials and cost of production, revising tool and engineering drawings and reviewing blueprints and instructions to ensure products meet the company's procedures and specifications. Mechanical designers play an important role in the development of products, from their design and creation to the final production.

Once a group of engineers decides what parts are needed to create a product, the mechanical designers begin putting the pieces together using CAD and 3D drawing software. Computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) allows the drafter or mechanical designer to edit the design until it meets the specifications required by the engineers. In addition to drawing the parts, the designers collaborate with engineers to discuss any needed changes, as well as the process and techniques that will be used. They also record the procedures, the results and any recommendations they may have for future use.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mechanical engineering designers are projected to experience job growth of five percent between 2012 and 2022, while drafters can expect a one percent growth. Because CADD systems are now being made with a friendlier format, more engineers have the luxury of doing tasks previously completed by drafters and designers, according to the BLS. This factor, along with companies outsourcing their drafting work to other countries will contribute to the slow employment growth.

The BLS reported that mechanical engineering technicians earned median annual wages of $53,530 in May of 2014, while mechanical drafters earned $52,200 that year. Wages often vary by location, experience and skill level.

Requirements

Education

To become a mechanical designer, you will typically be expected to complete a formal training program with courses in mechanical design, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and various maths and sciences. High school students interested in mechanical design are encouraged to take as many science and math courses as possible. Aspiring mechanical designers usually complete certificate or associate's degree programs, whereas mechanical designer technologists might pursue bachelor's degrees.

Associate's degree programs in mechanical engineering technology are found at vocational/technical schools or community colleges and can usually be completed in two years. The curriculum includes classroom studies and extensive time spent in the computer labs to obtain hands-on training. Students may also take part in seminars, internships and job fairs, depending on the school. Course topics may include technical mathematics, computer-aided drafting, mechanical detailing, 3D parallel modeling, mechanical assemblies, design programs, strength of materials, drafting with Solidworks and mechanical drafting with CAD.

Skills

Mechanical designer typically work with and assist engineers and engineering staff. In addition to training and work experience, other skills they must possess to be successful at their job include good communication skills, interpersonal skills, attention to detail, creativity, good math skills and problem-solving skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Mechanical designers can find work in several different types of organizations, ranging from manufacturing companies to engineering firms. Most of these companies look to hire candidates with some type of formal education, knowledge of CADD software and experience in mechanical design. Below is a sample of real job postings from April 2012:

  • An industrial construction company was seeking an experienced mechanical designer to work in its Denver office. Applicants must have had at least a 2-year degree, two years of experience working with REVIT, experience with HVAC software and strong knowledge of CADD.
  • A Kansas City, MO, engineering firm was looking for an experienced mechanical designer to assist the company's work in the power industry. Applicants should have had at least five years' experience as a mechanical designer, as well as experience working with AutoCAD 2010 or higher and CADworks. Experience routing piping in a power plant environment was also a bonus.
  • An engineering firm in Fort Worth, TX, that focused on developing equipment for the drilling industry was looking to hire an experienced mechanical designer to create drawings of structured steel components for drilling figs. Candidates must have had at least a high school education and seven years of drafting and design work. An associate's degree was preferred, but not required.

How to Stand Out

Get Certified

Although certification is not typically a requirement for employment, it demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of drafting and industry standards. The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers several certification programs for drafters and designers. Eligible candidates can become certified by passing examinations. All interested individuals, regardless of formal training or experience, can take the examination. Certifications are good for a specified number of years, at which time candidates must be re-certified. The ADDA also offers continuing education programs for interested students.

Alternative Career Paths

Environmental Engineering Technician

If you're interested in becoming an engineering technician and also have an interest in helping to clean up the environment, you may find that becoming an environmental engineering technician is a good fit for you. The BLS stated that these workers earned around $43,000 in 2010. They were also predicted to see an employment growth of 24% between 2010 and 2020. Training requirements for this career include completion of an associate's degree program - similar to the mechanical designer training.

Civil Engineering Technician

Civil engineering technicians require formal training, such as 2-year programs at technical schools or community colleges. Civil engineering technicians assist civil engineers in designing and building bridges, highways and utilities, as well as assisting with land development. In 2010, civil engineering technicians earned median annual wages of around $46,000. The BLS reported that these workers were expected to see an employment growth of 12% between 2010 and 2020.

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