What Will Mechanical Engineers Do After Most Cars Go Electric?

What Will Mechanical Engineers Do After Most Cars Go Electric?

What will mechanical engineers do after automobiles become mostly electric and electronic? First, let’s get one assumption out of the way, just in case it was somewhere behind your question: mechanical engineers do not generally repair cars. If you need brakes and alignment done, or your engine makes a funny noise when you accelerate, take it to a mechanic .

Not all mechanical engineers work on cars.

I have never worked in the automotive industry. I’ve worked in semiconductor capital equipment, electronics and enclosures, and a couple of other fields when contracting jobs brought me into contact with them. There is lots for mechanical engineers to do besides cars.

I did interview at NUMMI before the plant closed and Tesla took over the building. (The podcast linked is an excellent one.)

Not all mechanical engineers who work on cars design the engine.

In fact, most don’t.

I’m sure you’ve seen a car, but have you ever really looked at one? There’s a ton of stuff in it. There are seats and seat belts, airbags, a frame with a crumple zone to dissipate energy in the event of a crash, a mechanism to lift the trunk lid or hatch easily, a ventilation system, windshield wipers, shock absorbers, and much more. Somebody—in fact lots of somebodies—have to design, analyze, and test all that stuff.

Somebody designed the plastic taillight cover so it could be molded economically, assembled rapidly and accurately to the car, and perhaps removed to replace a burnt out light. It was also designed to fit the desired shape for the back end of the car, and to direct the light in a certain way. Somebody also designed the molding machine to make the taillight cover and the assembly line and process to install hundreds or thousands of them in a shift.

I don’t know what a typical parts count for an automobile is, but I’d guess it’s in the tens of thousands. Even as electronics take over certain functions, all the rest of those parts still need mechanical engineering attention, even the ones that don’t move.

Some mechanical engineering doesn’t look like designing stuff.

There are entire fields devoted to understanding, predicting, and controlling how heat moves around; how materials and geometries respond to forces; how materials slide, stick, and wear on one another (this one’s called tribology ); how air and other fluids flow over and around an object; how humans fit and interact with objects in their environment; and many more. Some of these have more application to automotive design than others.

In case you’re a student looking for career advice, I’ll leave you with this: the general skills you can learn (designing, analysis, manufacturing, controls, etc.) can be applied both to cars, if you end up working in an automotive-related field, and to many other lines of work if automotive work is not available in the region where you want to make a living.