What is mechanical engineering?

Mechanical engineers research, design, manufacture, test, and help maintain pumps, engines, aircraft, vehicles, biomedical instruments, manufacturing equipment, computer systems and components, and other mechanical devices.

Mechanical engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to work on power-producing machines, such as, electric generators; internal combustion engines; fuel cells; wind, steam, and gas turbines; solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems; and energy storage devices, such as hybrid vehicle batteries. They also work on power-using machines, such as machine tools, material-handling systems, elevators and escalators, industrial production equipment, and robots used in manufacturing. Mechanical engineers may design and help maintain heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) or water systems to improve energy efficiency. Mechanical engineers may also evaluate designs for energy performance or environmental impact and make sure products meet design and performance requirements or environmental regulations.

What do mechanical engineers do in the water and wastewater industry?

BAYWORK agencies have gathered profiles, photos and videos of mechanical engineers working in the water/wastewater industry, to give you an idea of what they do, how they feel about it, and how they got there. These case studies will take you behind the scenes at some of the Bay Area’s utilities.

“I enjoy researching and analyzing test data to determine the problem’s source and solution.”
Luz Penilla – Santa Clara Valley Water District

“Many times, I am told that there is a problem with a mechanical system. That’s all I am told. The process of figuring out why there is a problem and recommending a solution is very satisfying…. The process of understanding “why?” is always different each time. It is the best part of my job. But it is also the part that nobody sees because it is subtle and informal.”
Richard Wilson – East Bay Municipal Utility District

Profiles and videos of mechanical engineers in the water/wastewater industry
Karen KubickProfile Video
Luz PenillaProfile Video
Richard WilsonProfile Video
Mechanical engineers design and help maintain systems for plumbing, pipes, air conditioning and heating, and heavy machinery.

Some of their responsibilities in the water sector include:

  • design and maintenance of piping and flow routes through water/wastewater treatment plants, water distribution systems and sewers;
  • make water treatment plants and water distribution systems operate efficiently and reliably;
  • plan and design tools, engines, and machines to perform specialized functions such as delivering a steady flow of chemicals at a certain rate into the water supply at a treatment plant; and
  • oversee the installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment.
Salary range

The median wage in 2011 for mechanical engineers in California was $89,210 annually, or $42.89 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less*.

Educational requirements

A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field is generally the minimum educational level that employers will consider for mechanical engineer positions. Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in design, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and hands-on laboratory classes. An Engineer-In-Training Certificate is also highly recommended.

High school students interested in a mechanical engineering career should take college preparatory courses, such as chemistry, physics, and English as well as shop and drafting classes. They should take as many math classes as possible, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus.

In California, the number of mechanical engineers is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for mechanical engineers are expected to increase by 2.6 percent, or 600 jobs between 2008 and 2018. In California, an average of 70 new job openings per year is expected for mechanical engineers, plus an additional 590 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 660 job openings*.

Where can I learn more about mechanical engineering?

*Source Employment Development Department – Mechanical Engineers in California for all mechanical engineers, not just the water and wastewater industry

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