Studying Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers design and operate machinery and systems.
An article by Meike Fries in collaboration with Oliver Burgard
That is what it’s about
Be it aircraft engines, power plants, road and rail vehicles or tiny devices for medical technology – mechanical engineers develop a broad range of things and also design the technical systems to be able to produce these products on an industrial scale. At the beginning, students learn basic subjects like mathematics, physics, engineering mechanics, thermodynamics, computer science, electrical and electronic engineering, materials engineering, design and business administration. At some universities, practical exercises appear on the curriculum at the beginning, at others only in later semesters. Students then work in teams and learn, for example, how to build an engine or get a fuel cell to work. Students also get a taste of professional practice from computer applications such as CAD (computer-aided design). They use these applications to design various machine parts in 3D, for example gaskets, clutches and gear drives. As the semesters advance, the tasks become more complex until students design entire machines on the computer. To do this, they also need knowledge in the subjects of manufacturing engineering and materials science: when can you weld, when do you need to solder? When do you use metal, when do you use plastic? Students select their own areas of specialisation in the later semesters. Traditional specialisations are product development, process engineering, aviation and astronautics and production engineering. The specialisations vary from institution to institution. "Before choosing a place to study, have a close look at the syllabi and module descriptions," recommends Gerhard Hörber, professor at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin and chair of the faculty conference for Mechanical Engineering.
suitability, obstacles, misconceptions
Students have to be able to come to grips with mathematics and engineering mechanics, a sub-branch of physics – and grit their teeth. "It is not uncommon for students to feel overwhelmed in the first two semesters," says Frank Rieg, professor at the Uni Bayreuth and chair of the faculty conference for Mechanical and Process Engineering. But Rieg is encouraging: "You have to stick with it. If you are able to do this, you'll generally succeed." Students spend around 30 hours a week at the university; in addition, they follow up on the material and solve larger design or mathematical tasks. For difficult subjects like mathematics, extra help is often provided in the form of semester tutorials: "Students should plan in a few extra hours every week during the first academic year for tutorials like this," recommends the Berlin professor Gerhard Hörber. Mechanical engineers invent things that did not previously exist. They therefore also have to be creative. And they need a sense of aesthetics: "Ugly products don't sell well, even machines," says Rieg. Fewer than half of all Mechanical Engineering courses have restricted admission. The course entrance restrictions are usually somewhere between a grade of two and three.