Classes Every Mechanical Engineer Should Take

I know that I’m late with my blog post this week and I apologize for that. Proposal writing, lectures, and whatnot. Today, I have my first faculty meeting in one department and I’m debating whether I want to bring up suggestions to change the course I teach which would make it link better with another course. I’ve inquired with several of the people that would be most affected by this transition and everyone thinks it’s decent idea (at least on the surface). Also, I’ve polled several students to hear their thoughts and most, to my surprise, are on board with it. In talking with students, I’ve also come across three common themes that they wish were different for their curriculum. One is the change to my course, which I won’t discuss here for obvious reasons. The other two, however, directly fall in line with what I would call (oddly enough) classes every mechanical engineer should take.

The first class is machining, which should be fairly apparent from my title and picture [photo credit: Smithy]. I think all mechanical engineering students should learn how to machine something. Or, as MEs say, learn how to make chips. There are several reasons for this.

  1. Mechanical engineers should be able to build things and know how things are built. In the real world, MEs probably aren’t going to be machining parts 24/7. However, they should know how something is machined and what processes they can use to machine stuff to better design parts/components/systems etc. It also will give MEs an appreciation for good designs that are easily machined.
  2. Machining doesn’t require advanced math/physics skills. If students are coming in without AP credit and are following the course schedule, their first two to three semesters are Calc I, Calc II, Calc III, Physics I, Physics II, Chem, Writing, etc.  For basic machining, you don’t need any of that. A machining course is perfect for a 1st year class because it has no prerequisites. And, it’s not a course that’s time consuming outside of class, relative to the Calcs, Physics, and Chems. So it’s not going to over-burden students.
  3. It’s a good class to retain students or even draw students into ME programs. I know most of the first year classes are the so-called weed-out classes. At DrWife’s UG university, they called freshman engineers “pre-business” because so many drop out. While I don’t think fundamentally that everyone should be able to do engineering and people without the math skills even less so, a machining course is a good way to bridge that gap between theory and application. Yes, there’s this advanced calc and physics that can be difficult at times. But, you also get to build cool shit with your own hands. Someone who is on the fence may not hop over because of such a course.
  4. Feedback from senior/grad students is that they want/need this in the curriculum to find competitive jobs. Several students I’ve spoken to say they have a competitive disadvantage over other students from other universities because they never had a machining course nor a project that they build with their own hands. They say that trying to describe to your potential future boss that you’re a really good mechanical engineer but you’ve never built anything during your undergraduate program is an oxymoron. If students can see that dilemma, why can’t we, as supposedly advanced educators with higher degrees, see that as well?

So, a machining course in a ME program, makes sense right? How about my second course that every ME should take? Wait for it…

Applied Circuits and Op-Amps.

I know that most ME programs actually do have a circuits course that they have to take. Generally, it’s in the soph-jr year range. But here’s why it needs to change to a first year course. I’m going to state something that many EEs will probably disagree with but you only need two golden rules to understand op-amps and no calculus is needed. If you can understand algebra, you’re fine. Here’s why:

  1. I’m talking about a strictly applied course. Much more hands on than anything else. All you need is a signal generator, a breadboard kit, a DC motor, and (if you want to be more advanced) a nice little USB labview DAQ to tie in some data acquisition topics at the end of the course. All of analog circuits is based on f = Acos(wt+phi)+B. Teaching students about a low pass filter or high pass filter is very easy. If the low pass filter with cutoff of 1/2piRC is greater than w, then f passes through. If it’s less, then f doesn’t pass through. This can easily be applied to B for high pass filters or voltage dividers.
  2. You can teach op-amp using basic algebra. Whenever I see a “basic circuits” problem with -infinity to +infinity integrals for capacitor with op-amps, a small part of me cries inside. Yes, if you want to chug through the complete math example, it’s needed. But in the end, it often breaks down to 1/2piRC. If it’s more advanced than that, you’re not doing basic circuits.
  3. Making students chug through endless Kirchoff’s voltage/current laws equations to find the equivalent resistance/capacitance values of a 50 resistance/capacitance network is equally dumb. You need 3 fixed resistors or 3 fixed capacitors to make virtually any resistor value. Anything more is pointless.
  4. Like the machining course, no advanced math is needed. Great for a first year course. And, when they see it again in some lab class or more advanced jr-level lecture, which has all that added theory, they’ll have enough of a background to understand what the answer should be.
  5. Students, while grumbling, agree it is needed. If only to understand how measurements of mechanics and material properties are made (stress, strain, displacement, etc).

If you haven’t had both of these courses, would you have liked to take them in your first year? If you have had courses liked these, how have they helped/hurt your understanding of topics throughout the program. Any other courses you think should be mandatory? I would be curious to hear about those as well.

8 responses to “Classes Every Mechanical Engineer Should Take”

  1. Sean

    Taking courses that lend experience to real world situations is a good thing to do. I am starting my engineering degree at the beginning, (I’ve been out of school for close to eight years) even taking basic math classes over again. I do however feel like I am “mechanically inclined” due to my previous career as a mechanic and having grown up always working with tools and building things. It feels like I’m more at the opposite end of where your post points, it’s easier for me to wrap my head around simple engineering topics, yet the math/sciences courses are giving me the struggle!

  2. Steve Walton

    These two courses would be helpful. I would also add open hours in a student machine shop and a basic circuits labs so that small projects can be assigned and built for other courses.

    I can also see a need for a PLC course. This class could use an open source programming environment and Basic Stamps or similar hardware.

    The goal of the classes and the labs is that the students could design/build small projects on their own and have a better understanding of these systems in the capstone design projects. Some of my classmates built temperature control systems for meat smokers or homebrew beer equipment.

  3. selvan99

    Taking courses that lend experience to real world situations is a good thing to do. I am starting my engineering degree at the beginning of my college life.

    It feels like I’m more at the opposite end of where your post points, it’s easier for me to wrap my head around simple engineering topics, yet the math/sciences courses are giving me the struggle!

    The above content are all very useful real world problem in mechanical engineering.thank you……………..;

  4. Andy Owens

    Before embarking on my college career I got a one year diploma in machining at my local community college. Best thing I ever did. After that I worked for a company doing machining work. This experience has so valuable over my engineering career. It made many of my engineering class easier because I knew what was going on and why it was done that way.

  5. K.C.

    I recently graduated with my BSME degree and I felt like my University did not prepare me enough for the real world. I agree that it’s difficult to design something well/machinable if you never had experience with working on a mill, lathe, etc. I NEVER took a machining class and I come to regret the decision (well the University never offer the course so no one took it). I plan on taking a few courses at a Community College to supplement my degree.

    At the University, I did take courses like Intro. to Manufacturing where we actually had hand on experience cutting and welding a frame for a Chevy Nova Front awning. To my surprise the ME dept. disapproved with students using outside machinery equipment without waivers and so teacher was replaced.

    I agree the top two courses stated above are important. But there are other courses that I think are useful as well. They are:

    1. Computer Aided Drafting

    (I don’t know how many time I’ve seen this skill listed on job posting. My suggestion is to learn Pro-E, AutoCAD, and SolidWorks. They are the three most widely use and if you can’t use any of these program well, it’ll be difficult to get any ME jobs)

    2. Material Selection in Mechanical Design

    (highly useful for any design work you’ll be doing in the future)

    3. Strength of Materials

    (I highly recommend keeping the textbook and notes for this course.)

    4. Heat Transfer

    (I highly recommend keeping the textbook and notes for this course.)

    5. Technical Writing Course

    (Very useful, not just for graduate school research papers, but for design or meeting reports for future work).

    These courses apply most to design engineering. I might be missing a few courses, but definitely should make a note of these.

  6. Planning Beyond Graduation | Engineer Blogs

    […] can be pursued independent of the curriculum offerings available. GEARS has previously discussed classes every ME should take, and I’ve talked about what I think all engineers should know, but as a student, you […]

  7. M.Hughes

    Hi I am still a student, well I haven’t yet finished my engineeting diploma. I reside in South Africa. I have decided to get practical experience before completing my outstanding modules simply because I felt like I wanted more practical experience. I most certainly agree with the machining and electrical courses to be taken. i am very priveledged to be working at the 3rd largest power station in the world and i what I see and learn daily is astounding. Mechanical Engineering is so broad I see engineers having to make desisions about what type of machining whether it be different forms of welding or how to cut a certain material in order to best suit the requirements etc. In our course in South Africa, we have a year to go out and do what is known as “Practical work” divided into 6 month periods Practical 1 is machining and hand skills such as milling, welding, working on the lathe maching drilling etc. Practical 2 is abit more advanced where the student needs to do a project and is employed as a technician.

  8. Hello Engineers

    I truly agree with machining course. It is the course which every mechanical engineer must learn. But i think courses about circuits etc are based on your interest. It’s not necessarily useful for all engineers :)