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What does a day in the life of a mechanical design engineer entail?
It starts when you get a data pack of what design or product is required by a customer or client. You then present various ideas and concepts in the form of two-dimensional drawings and sketches or three-dimensional computer-aided design models at a development or review meeting.
Once approved by the client and design team, the concept is finalised as a design, prototyped and manufactured as an end product and all the relevant supporting documentation filed accordingly and user manuals completed.
Why did you decide on this career?
My first choice was aeronautical engineering because of my love for planes and anything that can fly. But due to financial constraints I opted for mechanical engineering instead. I am very hands-on, creative and full of ideas. I wanted to create new and exciting gadgets and equipment.
How did you get into this career?
I enrolled at Highveld Technical College to study for a national diploma in mechanical engineering and a year later I was offered apprenticeship training at Boart Longyear Seco, where I qualified as a turner and progressed to design.
This involved a lot of part-time study through the University of South Africa and other engineering institutions, but it has been well worth it.
What is challenging about the job?
You always need to be on top of your game in terms of technical etiquette, know your product well and continually improve it, know your competition and strive to satisfy your customer beyond their expectations.
What do you enjoy the most about it?
Seeing a complete idea come to life in the form of a useable product.
This means seeing through a project from the conceptual stage, to development, prototyping, manufacturing and final release or commissioning to client. Be it a car, a train system or even a missile.
What type of person would make a success of this position?
Someone who can work well in a team, has a sharp mind, is creative, goal-driven, focused, dedicated, diligent, very hands-on, punctual and able to work well under pressure because there are always deadlines to meet.
You need good interpersonal skills as the design department always liaises with other departments to execute projects smoothly and on time.
What subjects do you need to pass in high school to be able to study towards this career?
Mathematics, science and technical drawing. In instances where technical drawing is not offered at high school, you can start it in your first year at tertiary level.
What does one study at tertiary level to be able to get into this career?
You need to study for a national diploma in mechanical engineering and progress to a B-Tech degree at technikon level or study a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering at university level.
Opportunities also exist for electrical design engineers, in which case you would have to study electrical engineering.
What growth prospects are there for this career?
Growth and development prospects are endless. You can venture into various projects and industries without limitations.
You can start off at training level and once you are qualified you can be groomed into senior design and on to project management, be an engineering manager or a technical director.
The sky is the limit.
What career opportunities exist for a mechanical design engineer?
As a mechanical design engineer you have vast opportunities to work in various industries, be it the aerospace, automotive, railway, mining, manufacturing or mineral processing industries.
What is the starting salary for a mechanical design engineer?
The starting salary varies from company to company, but probably from a minimum of R8500 a month to a maximum of R60000 a month or more, depending on your level of responsibility and the experience you have gained to date.
Contract workers tend to earn more than permanent workers because of the risks involved in working from one limited-duration project to the next and having to take care of their own financial security.