International Engineering Ambassadors
Insight into the life & course of international students.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

What do you actually learn in Mechanical Engineering?

Written by: Birju Galaiya

Well, to answer this question you need to go back and define engineering. It is the ‘application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to invent, design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes’ (Wikipedia). Mechanical Engineering is the broadest type of engineering and focuses on the usage of heat and mechanical power for the design, production, and operation of machines and tools. 

 In my two years, I have developed a better understanding of how machines operate, why certain things are the way they are in terms of design and how the different type of engineering disciplines are interlinked to each other. In this blog I shall take you through some of the things we learn as part of our course and their applications in industry.

In my first year, we were taught the basic fundamentals- algebraic mathematics which is useful in solving problems, the magnitudes forces acting on a body and the implications of these forces, the microstructure of a substance and the relation to its properties (e.g what makes a material strong), thermodynamics (study of heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work), design skills which included drawing and understanding the importance of design and finally a touch of management (costing, managing a engineering project). These topics we learnt were quite detailed and supplemented by weekly lab sessions where we would put what we learnt to practice. For example, as a group we designed and carried out an experiment test a copper wire for its properties i.e. tensile strength and Young’s Modulus (its stiffness). After testing it and collecting the various data, calculations were done and we wrote a lab report explaining our findings and linking them to the theory we learnt in lectures. An application of this could be in the cables needed to operate a lift- the cables would need a material that has a high tensile strength to support the passengers. Engineers calculate how strong the cables have to be and reduce the likelihood of the cables snapping. Quite complex but interesting! 

  In the 2nd year, the structure was similar but the semester was much denser as a lot of content needed to be covered. We did a module about electric circuits which included electromagnetic induction, D.C and A.C circuits and network analysis. All machines are integrated with electric circuits so it is important to learn the concepts of circuits. 

We also used Solidworks in modelling a small wooden bridge we had to design to support a load. The software lets you simulate the bending that would occur when the load is placed and gives you an idea of where the bridge is at the weakest point. This is known as structural analysis and engineers use this to analyse structures like buildings, bridges and machines to see whether they are safe to use. 

Also, we used was MATLAB where we used mathematical equations to understand main concepts of vibration. Vibration analysis is really important to ensure the integrity of a machine- if it vibrates at certain frequencies it can be dangerous. A suspension of a car relies on dampers that reduce the vibration caused by the surface contact between the wheel and the uneven road. Engineers simplify the system into a model where they calculate the safe limit of vibration allowed. 

 Finally, the finance part of engineering is as important as the design itself. We learnt about the laws engineers and firms need to follow especially the laws of patents and environment. Managing a large engineering project is a key skill required. As groups we were given several imaginary projects that we had to manage in terms of ensuring costs don’t exceed, the solution provided was viable (good return of investment) and to ensure all employees are integrated into a team that would deliver the project on time. It was quite challenging task to manage all these factors but it was a good experience that will definitely help me in the future when assigned a project in a firm. 

There is so much more that we learn in our course!

You can look at the modules you will study at Mechanical Engineering Modules

 Thank you.

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