Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineers research, develop, design, manufacture and maintain machines, machine components and systems in various fields of application.

They work on power-producing machines such as generators, engines and steam and gas turbines. They also work on power-using machines such as refrigeration and air-conditioners, robots used in manufacturing, elevators and escalators, and industrial production equipment. Mechanical engineering can be considered to be the cornerstone of modern technology because it applies the principles of natural science in a way that leads to the greater convenience, progress and safety of mankind.

Mechanical engineers usually specialise in one of the fields set out below:

Transportation: these engineers, together with other engineering specialists, design and develop equipment such as aircraft, helicopters, missiles, ships, motorcars, trains, as well as the steam and gas turbines and petrol and diesel engines needed for propulsion.

Power generation: engineers in this field attempt to provide the energy required by consumers. The demand on existing natural resources provides a challenge for engineers to provide energy and power without harming the environment or depleting resources.

Agriculture: by providing modern equipment such as threshing machines, tractors, harvesters and milking machines for food producers, engineers in this field assist in the economical production of food.

Mining: the wealth-producing minerals and mining industry is one of the sectors where great demands are made on the initiative of the mechanical engineer. Pumping plants, hauling machines, winding equipment, ventilation fans, conveyor belts, drilling-machines and underground railways are a few of the devices which require the input of a mechanical engineer.

Environmental engineering: specialist mechanical engineers create the controlled indoor environment that people need in order to work in comfort. Factors such as humidity, temperature and cleanliness of the air in the workplace are monitored, adjusted and controlled by these engineers. In this field of study the mechanical engineer works particularly closely with engineers from other disciplines.

Biomedical engineering: heart-lung machines, artificial kidney machines, heart valves, pacemakers and operation monitors are all examples of the work of a biomedical engineer. Without this equipment the medical profession could not progress (see biomedical engineer).

Industrial engineering: mechanical engineers also play a major role in industrial and manufacturing processes such as production technology and quality control (see industrial engineer).

Other areas of specialisation include:

  • transportation equipment
  • fluid mechanics
  • heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
  • instrumentation
  • machines for specialised industries such as rubber, petroleum and plastics
  • construction
Mechanical engineers usually work in offices where the computer plays a major role. It is also necessary that the premises, for which the engineer designs equipment or coordinates maintenance, be inspected before commencing the work.

Engineering graduates usually begin work under the supervision of experienced engineers and are gradually given more responsibilities as they gain experience. Some engineers with experience and additional education move into administration or management. Many high-level executives in industry began their careers in engineering.

For Mechanical Engineering Technicians and Technologists, see Engineering Technicians and Technologists

Personal Requirements

  • aptitude and preference for experimenting, planning and research
  • enjoy detailed work and solving problems
  • above average intelligence and an analytical mind
  • meticulously accurate in calculations and drawings
  • mathematical and mechanical aptitude
  • ability to visualise objects three-dimensionally and interpret 3D drawings
  • good decision-maker
  • prepared to accept responsibility - defects in designs can affect lives
  • creative
  • work well with others
  • managerial qualities

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

Degree: A BSc in Mechanical Engineering can be followed at UCT, UKZN, NWU, NMMU, UP, UJ, US, UNISA and Wits.

Afterwards, a period of 2 years practical training is required before a person may register as a professional engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa

Diploma: universities of technology now offer a degree in Mechanical Engineering in collaboration with universities. The course is a minimum of 4 years’ study and is presented by the following: CUT, CPUT, DUT, TUT, VUT and UNISA.

Some TVET colleges offer courses, e.g. KZN Coastal, Maluti, Vuselela, Flavius Mareka, SW Gauteng, Umgungundlovu.


  • manufacturing industries
  • government departments, and such organisations as: CSIR, Eskom, NECSA, AECI, Sasol, Genmin, JCI, MINTEK, SABS
  • mining companies
  • consulting engineering firms
  • universities and universities of technology
  • self-employment, a registered mechanical engineer with the necessary experience and initiative can work as a consultant in any of the above-mentioned organisations or can also start own manufacturing engineering company
Bursaries are available from many of these institutions.

Further Information

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
1st Floor, Waterview Corner Building
2 Ernest Oppenheimer Avenue
Bruma Lake Office Park, Bruma
Johannesburg, 2198 
Tel: (011) 607-9500

Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, South Africa (IMEESA)
2 Davidson Street, 
Rynfield, Benoni, 
Johannesburg, 1501 
Tel: (011) 425 0585

Getting Started

  • look for part-time or vacation work in construction or in manufacturing
  • make an appointment to speak to a mechanical engineer about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions


Related Occupations

How to register as a Professional Engineer with ECSA

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