An Understanding of the Field of Engineering Through the Perspective of a Student

In a world of systems becoming faster and more intricate, engineering is one of the most crucial professions to the global modernization of technology. Engineers create, implement, and improve the designs of products and systems in countless industries worldwide. Because the discipline of engineering relies on knowledge and experience in the applications of mathematics and science, engineering knows no language or boundaries. The numerous branches of engineering are evidenced in the functionality of products of all kinds, from the moving parts inside a mechanical pencil to the software working inside a scientific supercomputer.

Of these engineering branches, mechanical engineering is one of the most well- known. The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines mechanical engineering as, “The branch of engineering that specializes in the design, production, and uses of machines” (“mechanical engineering”). Before the advent of electronics, computer software, or modern understanding of chemistry, inventers from all historical eras practiced rudimentary mechanical engineering. Today, the practice has become much more intricate.

According to Mechanical Engineer, Megan Sullivan, this type of engineer works with the design and function of “machines” in industries such as “transportation, power generation, energy conversion, climate control, machine design” and many others.

The skills necessary to work with each of these diverse types of designs are primarily built on an educational foundation of mathematics and physics classes; these skills are then honed by hands on experience, making mechanical engineering a very diverse field of work.

By contrast, many other branches of engineering are more technical, such as computer, software, and electrical engineering.

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Engineers of these types are study much more to use computer software and implement electronics to solve industrial problems in college than physics-minded mechanical engineers. As technology modernizes, these types of engineers become more necessary to work on the design and production of goods from most industries.

According to Alan S. Brown, there is an increasing emphasis on electronic systems in mechanical processes in the engineering world (Brown 1). This blend of mechanics and electronics is referred to as “mechatronics” (Brown 1). Perhaps the term “mechatronics” is only recently gaining such prominence, but mechanical, electrical and the aforementioned other types of engineers have been working together for a long time. An editorial in Design News quotes mechanical engineer, Colby Buckman, who shares his professional insights on mechatronics (Hopey 1). According to Buckman, most current “mechanical engineering things” are “microprocessor- controlled” by electronics (qtd. in Hopey 1). Therefore, modern- day mechanical engineers work with “technical engineers” and “technologists” on a daily basis (Brown 2-4).

A few universities in the United States are beginning to offer complete academic programs in mechatronics, which contain some mechanical, electrical, and computer classes (Hopey 2). Many believe mechatronics education programs will begin to replace mechanical engineering as electronics becomes a greater part of industries. Even veteran mechanical engineer Colby Buckman is beginning to pursue a certificate in mechatronics, to “Further [his] expertise” and add stability to his career in the automotive industry. (Hopey 1).

As mechatronics academic programs become more prevalent across the nation, many incoming engineering students will begin to ask “Will this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to applied science begin to replace mechanical engineering or will it establish itself as a separate branch of engineering entirely?” Although this question cannot be answered absolutely, mechatronics cannot threaten the security of this established discipline, because mechanical engineers are necessary to countless industries worldwide to solve and implement solutions to a very specialized type of real-world problems.

Some in the field believe that mechatronics education will consolidate the quantity of workers needed in production facilities. According to Kevin Craig, who began one of the nation’s first mechatronics programs at Marquette University, the knowledge gained while earning mechatronics certificates will give professionals “attributes of both” engineers and technologists (Craig 1). This would allow companies who own large factories, such as the Hershey chocolate company, to employ one employee who is a combination of both a mechanical engineer and an expert in electronics such as an electric, software and control engineer or a technologist (Craig 1). This would allow all production facilities to increase the productivity of their workers and run their business more efficiently (Craig 1). Presumably, mechatronics could threaten the positions many more types of professionals than only mechanical engineers.

However, mechanical engineering students should not be discouraged or dissuaded from their choice of study. The mechanical engineering profession will be no less vital to the twenty-first century world in ten years than it is today. These students should feel secure about the field which they are training to enter because advances in technology also allow mechanical engineers to work more efficiently, mechanical engineering students are gaining an up-to-date education in technology before graduation, and mechanical engineers are the most qualified professionals to spearhead the advance of mechatronics.

Firstly, advances the applications of electronics in design and production also makes the work of mechanical engineers progress quicker and more efficiently. If electronics benefits other branches of engineering, does it not seem intuitive that mechanical would reap the same benefits? According to professor of mechanical engineering Avram Bar-Cohen, modernizing “technology” has caused “the practice of engineering [to undergo] drastic changes in the last thirty years” (Bar-Cohen 7). Bar-Cohen writes that mechanical engineers use software technology to find solutions to parts of the problems they face every day (Bar-

Cohen 5). Thus enabling them to focus on their specialty (mechanics), rather than working on quandaries that have already been addressed by other types of engineers (Bar-Cohen 5). Bar-Cohen is not alone in this school of thinking. Another mechanical engineer, Patrick Banse, weighs in on the effect of mechatronics in the field of engineering.

According to Basne, the “enhancement” of electronics, such as computer aided design programs, do allow him to “speed up [the] process” so that he may spend more time working on his specialty, HVAC mechanics (Banse 2). There will always be a need for physical mechanical engineers to resolve to find solutions to make mechanical systems more productive and efficient. Although it sometimes takes help from other engineers, including mechatronics, mechatronics actually allows ME’s (mechanical engineers) to spend more time working on projects for their employer; Banse calls this the “human time element” (Banse 2).

Although this is very good news for companies who employ engineers, does mechatronics cause mechanical engineers to become rarified, one-dimensional professionals as Craig suggests? Mechatronics will certainly change the landscape of mechanical engineering, but it will undoubtedly not limit it. According to Bar-Cohen, because many of these mechatronic processes are operated by computers and other electronic apparatuses, independent “teams” of engineers can design functions for themselves to market them to many different firms in the same industry (8). These electronic-driven processes may then be easily installed into each production facility which purchases the design. Thus, the problem- solving skills ME’s develop during their early careers, only becomes more integral as mechatronic engineers begin to enter the field.

Secondly, mechanical engineering education is always adapting to the latest innovations in engineering technology; this too lends the occupational stability to this discipline. According to John R. Dixon, mechanical engineering was “adrift” in the 1990’s (Dixon 1). With the influx of computers and electronics (mechatronics) into mechanical processes such as automobiles, the role mechanical engineers would play in these rapidly changing industries was a mystery to academic programs (3). Dixon identifies that mechanical engineers were failing to design successful solutions, because they could not work with the smart-technology in beginning to operate industrial production (2-3). In essence, mechanical engineers were becoming outdated because their education was obsolete.

However, the discipline’s academic programs have made a remarkable comeback. According to Dan Dietz in Mechanical Engineering, many college engineering programs, such as the University of Minnesota and Santa Clara University, teach students not just to work with the most current technology in their target field, but also how to work with other professionals in their field (Dietz 1-4). This training enables students to learn to use and adapt to incoming electronics and technology throughout their career (Dietz 5). Dietz focuses on the automobile industry, which is perhaps the paramount industry of mechatronic engineering.

In the nation’s foremost engineering programs, students planning to work for automobile manufacturers are already learning to use the software in automobiles to further their work with the mechanical side of the machines (Dietz 6). Therefore, unique function of mechanical engineers has actually been strengthened by the development of electronics; this is not because they specialize in technology, but rather they are learning to better use this technology to design and improve machines.

Thirdly, although mechatronics is continuing to grow in the United States and mechatronics engineers are now entering the workforce, some believe it is mechanical engineers who will be at the front of a modern mechatronics landscape. According to professor of mechanical engineering, David Alciatore, “A good hands-on mechanical engineer trained in electronics makes a much better mechatronics engineer than an electrical engineer or computer engineer trained in mechanics later” (qtd. in Brown 6-7).

ME’s should not be afraid of mechatronics entering their industry, because their knowledge and experience cannot easily be replaced-particularly by a worker with a mechatronics certificate who has not been trained in as many higher math and science classes. Alan S. Brown writhes that which branch gains the control of engineering will be determined by how the “colleges train the next generation of mechanical engineers” (Brown 7). The evidence suggests that mechanical engineering programs are effectively preparing their students to achieve a stable place in the world of mechatronic design and production.

In his article in Mechanical Engineering-CIME, Brown praises the aforementioned Kevin Craig as perhaps the nation’s foremost evangelist of mechatronic design” (2). Craig is not wrong when he says that the differences between “technologists and engineers emanates primarily from differences in their education” and that most industries are looking for “attributes of both in everyone.

However, to say that a relatively short academic program can produce a functional combination of the many different fields of applied scientists which come together to develop and improve the technology which has become vital to our world demonstrates an underestimation of not only mechanical engineers, but also to all types of professionals which work together on teams to produce this technology. Mechanical engineers working today and students training for this discipline do not believe that a mechatronics certificate will allow anyone to do the job for which mechanical engineers take years to study and years yet to become proficient problem-solvers (Sullivan 1).

Mechatronics training will perhaps “bridge the gap” between the veteran engineers and technologists who have trouble understanding each other’s specialized disciplines, but it will never replace those positions, especially mechanical engineering. Many mechanical engineers love their profession, and believe that it will continue to grow (Bar-Cohen 8). As the world globalizes and becomes more industrial, the role of all who study applied sciences will become more vital to the twenty-first century way of life (Bar-Cohen 8).

In conclusion, mechatronics is certainly coming into new industries faster than ever and its fresh ideas and innovative integration of electronics have changed many types of industrial production in the United States, especially automobiles and robotics. Mechatronics has also changed engineering. However, mechatronics concepts and mechatronics engineers only enhance the world that mechanical engineers built; they do not mean to tear it down. The world is most certainly in need of young and ambitious men and women to study mechatronics; just as it is in need of specialists in software, controls, safety, mechanics, computers, and chemicals.

The skills used by each of the following are not learned in a classroom, but rather by engaging into one’s discipline and always learning to improve the world with one’s knowledge outside of the classroom and even after graduating with a degree. As a mechanical engineering student, I have benefited very much from learning about the career for which I am studying and I have come to understand the field of engineering better. Prospective mechanical engineering students should never fear progress, especially in the form of mechatronics engineers. On the contrary, they should learn to work with professionals of all disciplines to continue to do what good engineers do-improve the world for everyone on it.

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An Understanding of the Field of Engineering Through the Perspective of a Student. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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