Is There a Future Demand for Mechanical Engineers?

Is there a demand for mechanical engineers in the future? Of course! We’re moving into the digital age, but we still live in a physical world.

I find this question comes up more and more, the deeper we march into a digital existence. The shift from atoms to bits as some would put it.

And let’s face it, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation aren’t going to slow down. As a result, more industries will get overrun by software and electronics.

This means mechanical engineering won’t completely engulf every industry as it once did. BUT, it’ll still remain a powerhouse engineering field.

Because again, we humans, still live in a physical world. We can’t eat data, wear data, or stay dry under a motherboard.

Plus, bits today don’t exist without atoms.

In Silicon Valley it’s often said, if there are no cars, there’s no Uber.

With the stage set, let’s go over the future demand for mechanical engineers.

Mechanical engineering employment and wage data

Before we do anything else, let’s first review employment data for mechanical engineers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects a 4% increase in employment from 2019 to 2029. A key takeaway is the following:

“Job prospects may be best for those who stay abreast of the most recent advances in technology.”

Now, let’s look at 2019 median salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Keep in mind, I’ve only listed the top median salaries above mechanical engineers.

Engineering Discipline 2019 Median Salary
Petroleum Engineers$137,720
Computer Hardware Engineers$117,220
Aerospace Engineers$116,500
Nuclear Engineers$113,460
Chemical Engineers$108,770
Electrical and Electronics Engineers$101,250
Health and Safety Engineers$91,410
Mining and Geological Engineers$91,160
Marine Engineers and Naval Architects$92,400
Mechanical Engineers$88,430
Materials Engineers$93,360
Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers$91,410

The median salary of $88,430 is 2.2X greater than the median annual salary for all occupations in the U.S. at $39,810.

ALSO to re-point out, $88,430 is a median figure. Meaning, half of the engineers earn less than the median and half earn more.

From several data points I have, it’s safe to say the upper salary quartile is around $150,000. I have several friends who work at Tesla and Boeing who’ve shared their salaries with me.

Without a doubt, $150,000 is a great salary considering you probably don’t have a lot of student loans.

For a single person, this salary calculates to roughly $1,872 per week after taxes in California. Let’s now inspect other salaries below $150,000 after taxes to compare.

Annual SalaryWeekly Salary
$150,000$1,872
$140,000$1,748
$130,000$1,634
$120,000$1,522
$110,000$1,411
$100,000$1,301
88,430$1,174
$39,810$603

For most people, anything above the median is A LOT of money.

To move up into this salary range though, you need to level up as an engineer. I talk more about this later in the article.

But what if you want to still make even more money? I’m talking about $250,000 or even $1,000,000 plus!

It’s possible. You just need to further level yourself up. Or even, start a business that circles around mechanical engineering.

The impact of software on mechanical engineers

It’s important to note, the mechanical engineering field is growing today.

BUT, the absolute dominance it once had decades ago is gone.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the job outlook for software developers will be up 22% from 2019 to 2029. Compare this figure to the 4% job outlook increase with mechanical engineers.

Now, let’s compare percentile annual wage estimates.

Annual Percentile Wage EstimateMechanical Engineers (2019)Software Developers (2018)
10%$57,130$61,660
25%$70,280$79,340
50% (Median)$88,430$103,620
75%$111,980$130,460
90%$138,020$161,290

It’s clear how the market values each profession. It all makes sense too.

You can easily add value using software. All you need is a laptop to develop a finished product.

A mechanical engineer needs tools and equipment to develop a physical product though. This creates a greater barrier to entry economically speaking.

Because physical product improvements aren’t the easiest way to make things better anymore. Maybe one day though, once 3D printers become more advanced.

What’s more, software will reduce the work of three mechanical engineers down to one. The name of the game is efficiency.

All that said, it’s NOT doom and gloom for mechanical engineers. Not at all!

The breadth of the mechanical engineering field 

f-14 tomcat carrier launch
f-14-tomcat-carrier-launch (Photo Credit: Robert Sullivan)

Mechanical engineering is a very broad field. Everything you physically can touch was probably influenced by a mechanical engineer.

This is why if one branch in the field dries up, other branches will still thrive. At the same time, new branches will open their doors.

To illustrate, let’s look at MIT’s department of mechanical engineering. This will give us a peek into the broadness of the field.

The following are the focused areas of study at MIT:

  • Mechanics: modeling, experimentation, and computation
  • Design, manufacturing, and product development
  • Controls, instrumentation, and robotics
  • Energy science and engineering
  • Ocean science and engineering
  • Bioengineering
  • Nano/micro science and technology

What’s more, entering into one area of study doesn’t pigeonhole you either. You can near effortlessly cross into other areas as well.

Because a lot of the core study material crosses over from one area to the next seamlessly. Everything goes hand in hand like puzzle pieces.

So, individual buckets of study don’t exist with each area of study.

To drive my point home, let’s look at Standford’s mechanical engineering department. More specifically, the elements taught in their program:

  • Energy science and technology
  • Propulsion
  • Sensing and control
  • Nano- and micro-mechanics
  • Design mechatronics
  • Computational simulation
  • Solid and fluid dynamics
  • Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS)
  • Biomechanical engineering

In summary, not all areas of study from Stanford match up with MIT’s program. And that’s totally okay. Because again, you can’t place individual branches of mechanical engineering into single buckets.

Mechanical engineering degree versatility

In short, the degree is very versatile. For example, in many colleges, the following are mechanical engineering specializations:

  • Manufacturing engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Automotive engineering
  • Material science

So, remember the top-of-the-list salaries we reviewed earlier? A lot of them are in fact specialized mechanical engineering fields.

Just think of the scope of work in aerospace engineering. You deal with aerodynamics, materials, thrust, motion in a fluid, and so on. All are mechanical subjects, just highly niched.

Growing fields in mechanical engineering

Software it seems is taking over the world. Everywhere you look, software applications are infiltrating new products and industries.

At the same time, the many advancements made in mechanical engineering take a back seat. But great innovations are being made in many branches of mechanical engineering too.

Let’s go over a few.

Nanoengineering

It’s the study and application of very small things. It’s a field growing extremely fast with endless opportunities for mechanical engineers.

Some of the application opportunities include the following:

  • Stronger materials for construction and manufacturing
  • “Doctors” inside our bodies detecting and fixing abnormalities
  • Sensors to detect failure points in critical infrastructure
  • Longer lasting batteries and increased fuel efficiency
  • Water purification and environmental cleanup

Biomechatronics

We’re soon becoming like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. Our human bodies are merging more and more with machines.

Biomechatronics combines biology, electronics, and mechanics.

Thus, mechanical engineers would develop the following:

  • Actuators
  • Biomedical devices
  • Controllers
  • Implants
  • Mechanical sensors

Manufacturing

To no one’s surprise, every company wants their factory to operate more efficiently.

Thus, reducing operating costs and increasing production. This pursuit for increased efficiency drives innovation.

Mechanical engineers do the following types of work in this field:

  • Design manufacturing processes to reduce costs
  • Develop and execute fabrication processes
  • Automate facilities through computer technologies
  • Figure out solutions to production issues

Automation and machines

All you hear about on the news is machines taking over jobs.

It may be true the further we march into the future. One day, maybe, machines will make machines. A pretty gnarly sci-fi reality if you ask me!

But for the time being, someone needs to spearhead this design work.

This work ties into every industry too. Thus, the demand for mechanical engineers will only increase through new technology.

Other areas of focus

What’s more, mechanical engineering is the foundation of most other engineering fields.

Let’s go over some examples:

  • Want renewable energy? Mechanical engineers need to design wind turbines and hydroelectric facility turbines.
  • Electrical and software engineers can develop top-notch electronics and software. But, it’s mechanical engineers who will make them interface with the real world.
  • To travel deep into space, mechanical engineers need to design robots and machines.

There are countless other examples too.

But, I want to hyperfocus on electric vehicles and HVAC in the upcoming sections. This will further highlight the demand for mechanical engineers moving into the future.

Travel industry and electric vehicles

tesla fremont factory
Tesla Factory, Fremont (Photo Credit: Maurizio Pesce)

Airplanes, cars, trucks, boats, and so on.

Every travel vehicle relies on the work of mechanical engineers. Yes, even electric cars.

A traditional internal combustion engine includes many pieces. But so does an electric motor. Thus, both need mechanical engineers to do their designs.

Also though, the following components in electric cars need mechanical engineers:

  • Steering systems
  • Wheels and brakes
  • Instruments
  • Chassis
  • Suspensions
  • HVAC systems for passengers and batteries
  • Seats, doors, and other interior and exterior parts
  • Toolmaking equipment and molds for vehicle parts
  • Machines used in manufacturing and testing

The design of these components hinge on the following mechanical engineering subjects:

  • Thermodynamics
  • Mechanics
  • Robotics
  • Kinematics
  • Fluid analysis

Tesla jobs for mechanical engineers

Below quoted are several different job position descriptions for mechanical engineers at Tesla. Just look at the huge variance in job types, all for mechanical engineers.

Position: Senior Mechanical Design Engineer

“…looking for a highly motivated Mechanical Design Engineer to contribute to the design, install and ramp of battery cell manufacturing equipment.”

Position: Senior Interior Engineer

“Along with Tesla’s vehicle engineering team, you will release and launch interior components and subsystems…”

Position: Mechanical Design Engineering Manager, Gigafactory

“Tesla’s Infrastructure Engineering team is seeking a Mechanical Design Engineering Manager to play a pivotal role in building our Texas Gigafactory.”

Position: Mechanical Design Engineer – Autopilot Electronics

“Tesla is seeking a mechanical design engineers in the Autopilot and Electronics Product Design team.”

Position: Mechanical Design Engineer – Chassis

“The Chassis Design Engineering team plays a critical part in that mission, helping to deliver a safe, efficient, comfortable, and enjoyable driving experience, while also focusing on the sustainability and value of Tesla’s products.”

Position: Mechanical Design Engineer – Tool and Die

“…looking for a highly-motivated Mechanical Design Engineer to contribute to the development and fabrication of high volume metal stamping dies.”

Position: Mechanical Design Engineer – Power Electronics

“Tesla’s Power Electronics group is looking for a skilled and motivated individual to perform mechanical design activities for our power converter products to be used in Tesla vehicle powertrains and energy storage products.”

Position: Senior Mechanical Design Engineer, Solarglass Roof

“The Senior Mechanical Design Engineer is responsible for inventing and shepherding design concepts into viable product offerings.”

I can go on and on. The point is, the positions for mechanical engineers are endless. Even with the leading electric vehicle company in the world.

Clearly, electric vehicles aren’t going to make mechanical engineers obsolete. Not in the slightest.

What happens to future vehicles?

Let’s fast forward near a century from today. Let’s place ourselves in the year 2100.

Do I still see our current modes of transportation existing? Absolutely!

Will vehicle technology evolve? Of course!

Maybe though, one-day humans won’t be onboard some future vehicles. But, someone still needs to design these vehicles that’ll be robot-driven.

Artificial environmental control with climate change

A big part of mechanical engineering is HVAC work. HVAC is Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning.

These engineers focus on the design, installation, and operation of HVAC systems. And this is no small feat.

Because humans live in every type of climate you could imagine. This includes scorching hot and freezing cold climates.

For example, think of living in a place as hot as Arizona. Without temperature control, you couldn’t live there for more than several days. You’d fry!

What’s more, we also manipulate our environment in these other following ways:

  • Pressure
  • Humidity
  • Gas composition
  • Noise control

Now, throw in the onslaught of climate change. We’ll definitely need to manipulate our environment even more.

This includes the manipulation of our farm fields. We need to create ideal crop growth environments to feed populations.

So until we can figure out how to move fluids, heat, and cool with 1s and 0s, we’ll need mechanical engineers.

Important Note: fluid dynamics is the study of the motion of matter in different states. These states include liquid, gas, plastic, or plasma. 

The following is a shortlist of industrial work that needs fluid mechanics: 

  • Wind, hydro, and steam turbines
  • Jet and combustion engines
  • Hydraulic control systems 
  • Air flight control and aerodynamics
  • Fuel injection
  • Blood and plasma flow

Software and electronics rely on mechanical engineers

future of human kind with robots

Let’s circle back to the almighty software.

Without a doubt, advancements in software are staggering. Especially as we inch towards artificial general intelligence.

BUT, again, software innovations need a platform to perform in. In other words, where will you use the software innovations?

More times than not, you’ll use them in the material world. For example, you’ll find software used in the following places:

  • Autonomous cars
  • Rockets
  • Helicopters and airplanes
  • Robots and machines
  • Bio-mechanical body parts

The list goes on and on.

The point is, the software needs a host. Mechanical engineers are the creators of these hosts.

Important Note: innovations in software and electronics happens at a very fast pace. So, we think they’re taking over the world. 

But, most of the advancements have only come in the late 20th century. Thus, our fascination, because the tech is so new to humankind. 

At the same time, perspective is important. Software and electronics rely on the material world to survive. 

Future technological advancements

A lot of new-age innovations come from software and electronics. In fact, these innovations fueled the technological explosion in the most recent decades.

It goes without saying, mechanical engineers are greatly benefiting from software. Every branch of mechanical engineering is fiercely evolving today because of it.

For example, through software, we’re breaking through physical design limits. This happens because of the following:

  • Ability to recreate real-world scenarios accurately
  • Evaluate countless variables simultaneously
  • Deliver precision measurements
  • Process information at blistering rates
  • Gather endless amounts of valuable data

Without a doubt, all disciplines of engineering are interwoven together. This interdependency leads to new innovations that feed off each other.

Thus, as existing limitations crumble, new job opportunities open up. I see endless new job opportunities for mechanical engineers moving into the future.

Engineers adapting to a rapidly changing job market

Job markets constantly evolve. Especially this century with software and electronics taking lead.

So naturally, over time, more lower-level mechanical engineering jobs will become automated.

Or at the very least, the same jobs that once required two engineers will now only need one.

Now, throw in the globalization factor too. Outsourcing of jobs will become even more common and less taboo.

So is it all doom and gloom? For some, maybe.

But others will see the demand for SKILLED mechanical engineers rising. So, it becomes an awesome opportunity.

In the end, it’s your job as an engineer to constantly level yourself up. You can’t just coast by and expect a rosy future anymore.

To help you along, check out my below-written articles. They’ll help you level yourself up as an engineer.

“Is there a demand for mechanical engineers in the future?” wrap up

Until the day we completely become digitized, we’ll need mechanical engineers. I’m talking about uploading our minds into computers

But even then, mechanical engineers will need to design and maintain these machines.

Along the same line, someone needs to design the robots that’ll one day steal everyone’s jobs. I’m being facetious…

Clearly, the demand for mechanical engineers isn’t going to go poof anytime soon. Because we live in a material world!

All in all, YOU need to make yourself a better engineer. Especially if you want an awesome job with great pay.

I will go as far as to say, you’ll have an upper-middle-class job as a mechanical engineer if you want it. I can’t see this changing anytime soon either, but with a caveat.

You may need to further specialize, or combine your skills with other trades.

In the end, your future success is up to you, because mechanical engineering is here to stay!

What do you think the demand for mechanical engineers will be moving into the future? What will affect the demand for mechanical engineers in the future the most?

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