Solid Modeling Designer Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Learn about a solid modeling designer's job duties, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a solid modeling designer career.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Solid Modeling Designer

Solid modeling designers are a type of mechanical drafter responsible for creating 3-D computer images of manufacturing parts and other invented objects so engineers and other designers can determine if the parts or object will work as expected. Is this niche job worth pursuing? Consider the pros and cons before you decide.

Pros of a Career as a Solid Modeling Designer
Pay is high in relation to the amount of education needed - averaging over $55,260 in 2014 (for all mechanical drafters)*
Education can be completed in as little as one year**
Training prepares you for a variety of computer aided drawing (CAD) jobs***
Certification is available for anyone who passes the exam and does not require any formal education or training****

Cons of a Career as a Solid Modeling Designer
Employers may prefer employees with training in engineering or another related field*
The demand for solid modeling specialists may decrease as others in the field become proficient in CAD programs (projected decline of 7% from 2014-2024 for all mechanical drafters)*
Employment options may be dependent on the industry's economy, which is affected by consumer demand*
You may need to take classes - at your own expense - to keep current with CAD technology*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, ***Tennessee Technology Center, ****American Design Drafting Association.

Career Information

What You Do in This Job

A solid modeling designer is a type of mechanical drafter who works with engineers and other types of designers to create products (often parts that are used in machines). The engineers and designers create sketches of what the part should look like and use equations to determine various aspects of the part's functionality. These equations and sketches are then given to the solid modeling designer, who uses them in conjunction with solid modeling software to render a 3-D version of the part that can be manipulated on the computer. Solid modeling designers may also participate in the testing stage and may help with creating a physical prototype.

Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not release data that is specific to solid modeling designers, but it does publish information regarding mechanical drafters. In 2014, mechanical drafters made an average salary of just over $55,260 a year. The BLS projected that the mechanical drafting field would decrease by 7% over the 2014-2024 decade.


Training and Skills

Solid modeling designers are typically trained in CAD (computer aided design) skills first, through a diploma or associate's degree program. Students who then want to continue on to specialize in solid modeling design can pursue further training to learn about the special software used in the solid modeling field; some schools offer certificate programs for this. Some software companies also offer certification in their solid modeling programs.

Besides being trained in CAD and solid modeling software, the BLS notes that all drafters need to have sharp critical thinking skills and should be detail-oriented and able to manage their time well. They need to be comfortable with computers and working on teams and should be able to listen well and communicate clearly.

Job Postings

In late April of 2012, there were a number of job openings posted online for workers skilled in solid modeling and the related software. Based on these postings, employers value candidates who are skilled with the SolidWorks software and Microsoft Office products. They also wanted candidates who have at least some formal training in the form of a diploma or associate's degree. Listed below are a few of the jobs that were posted. These jobs were chosen because of the type of position they advertise, and not because they are in some way representative of the field.

  • A valve manufacturer in Michigan was looking for a self-motivated designer to prepare and detail mechanical sketches. This position also involved testing products and working on prototypes. The employer was particularly interested in candidates who had experience with Protel.
  • An air conditioning/heating company in Houston was looking for a drafter to work with electrical and mechanical engineers and design team leaders to draft and detail mechanical parts and assemblies. The employer preferred a self-starter familiar with ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and Department of Defense drawing standards.
  • A California-based consulting firm was looking for a mechanical designer with the ability to work independently and take initiative on projects. The positions included working with Solidworks software and maintaining documentation like drawings and specifications for products. Five to six years of experience and familiarity with electric rotating equipment was preferred.

Making Your Resume Stand Out

While formal education isn't strictly a necessity to work in solid modeling design, more and more employers prefer at least some formal training, so you may want to earn a diploma or associate's degree in drafting or CAD. Some schools also offer a solid modeling certificate program that you can take in addition to your diploma or associate's degree program that will educate you in the software commonly used by solid modeling designers.

Some software companies, like the makers of Solidworks, also offer certification in the use of their product; passing those exams can show employers that you are well versed in the use of the software. The American Design Drafting Association also offers certification for drafters, though this certification does not cover the software used in the field. It can, however, show employers that you're knowledgeable about drafting, and the test is available to anyone who wants to take it, regardless of whether or not they've had formal training.

Alternate Career Paths

Industrial Designer

If you'd like to be part of the creative process of design and manufacturing and you don't mind getting a bachelor's degree, you may want to consider a career in industrial design. Industrial designers utilize CAD programs to develop concepts for manufactured products like appliances, automobiles and even toys. A job in this field would require a bachelor's degree in industrial design, engineering or architecture. The BLS projected that the field would grow about 10% through 2020, and it found that industrial designers earned an average of about $64,000 in 2011.

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

If you enjoy the idea of working in the mechanical engineering world with a variety of duties other than CAD design, look into a career as a mechanical engineering technician. You'd still be involved in designing, testing and creating machinery and equipment, as well as in making sketches and analyzing data - responsibilities that are somewhat similar to those of solid modeling design. You would need an associate's degree from a community college or a vocational school to pursue this job. The growth is expected to be lower than that of mechanical drafting (around 4% through 2020), but the pay is comparable at a 2011 average of nearly $53,000.

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