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Engineering the Mechanized World

Tyler Johnson

English III Honors


Mrs. Kopp
February 26, 2015

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Tyler Johnson
Mrs. Kopp
English III Honors
26 February 2015
Engineering the Mechanized World
Careers in engineering offer numerous opportunities by encompassing various disciplines
that cover topics including everything from electrical systems to the structure of buildings.
Engineers rely heavily on effectively applying mathematical and scientific principles and
complex problem solving techniques to a variety of situations to achieve specific goals, such as
greater efficiency, higher durability, lower cost, lower environmental impact, or a combination of
these and many others. Mechanical engineering, the broadest of engineering disciplines, focuses
primarily on the design of mechanical systems, assessing the transfer of energy through such
systems and their individual components, and improving them. Therefore, mechanical
engineering offers a viable career to those who enjoy applying knowledge and reason to
mechanical systems by providing high salaries, chances to improve the manner in which the
world functions, and endless future opportunities.
Mechanical engineering encompasses the design, manufacture, and operation of engines,
machines, and the oversight of manufacturing processes. The invention of the steam engine and
the Industrial Revolution led to an increased focus on the development of machines to power the
new industrial age and to the rise of mechanical engineering. The founding of the Institution of
Mechanical Engineers in Birmingham, England in 1847 led to the formal recognition of
mechanical engineering as an official engineering discipline (Mechanical Engineering). From

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the origination of the field, mechanical engineering has expanded into the broadest and arguably
most impactful engineering discipline.
Before entering the field of mechanical engineering, an aspiring engineer must obtain a
minimum of a bachelors degree from a reputable college or university program, most commonly
in mechanical engineering (Mechanical Engineering U.S. News). Only requiring an
undergraduate degree allows students of mechanical engineering to enter the workforce much
earlier than other careers offering similar starting salaries. Although most companies only
require an undergraduate degree, they often favor candidates with a graduate degree or additional
certifications. The relatively short mandatory schooling offers options to students who may
choose to enter the workforce after completing an undergraduate degree and return later to
procure a higher education to allow for further advancement. Obtaining a degree in mechanical
engineering requires classes such as thermodynamics, statics and dynamics, solid and fluid
mechanics, strength of materials, and internal combustion engine design (Mechanical and
Aerospace Engr (MAE)). Education provides students with a comprehensive understanding of
the complex scientific and mathematical principles that mechanical engineers apply to real world
scenarios to solve problems.
When high school graduates decide to pursue a career in mechanical engineering and
begin to search for colleges, seemingly every school with a focus on science or math offers a
mechanical engineering program. However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford
University, California Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley, and Georgia
Institute of Technology offer the top five mechanical engineering programs in the US. The
yearly tuition of each of these institutions ranges from $26,000 at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley to $45,000 at Stanford University (Mechanical Engineering. U.S. News). North

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Carolina State University offers the highest ranked mechanical engineering program in North
Carolina and costs approximately $8,000 per year for North Carolina residents (Engineering
Schools). All of these institutions provide highly reputable degrees and the education a student
receives at any of them thoroughly prepares them for the type of challenges mechanical
engineers face in the workforce.
In addition to earning an accredited degree, securing employment may prove difficult for
prospective engineers without some form of unique experience to set themselves apart.
According to Mr. Rodney Turk P.E., a mechanical engineer working for Shaw, a degree from
any accredited school will suffice the key [to employment] will be getting work experience
that will allow employers to see hiring you as less risky. Employers seek to hire capable
engineers with expertise that only comes from experience in the field because it benefits their
business. This poses a problem for engineering graduates, but reinforces the necessity of
internships and cooperative study programs (Turk). Mechanical engineerings requirement of
experience forces new engineers to compete for the opportunities to differentiate themselves
from other candidates for employment.
After completing an undergraduate degree, depending on the desired industry of
employment, some future mechanical engineers choose to acquire a Professional Engineer
License (PE), a graduate degree, or both. Both designations aim to further qualify the engineer
and open the path for increased responsibility and advancement. A PE certifies an engineers
competency in a particular discipline of engineering and allows the engineer to assume greater
responsibility and liability in the workplace. To become a professional engineer one must earn
an undergraduate engineering degree from an accredited university program, pass the
Fundamentals of Engineering test to become an Engineer in training, work as an apprentice to a

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professional engineer for four years, and then pass the Principles and Practices of Engineering
exam. Mr. Turk describes the exam as similar to a Doctoral Verbal Exam and says it allows the
engineer to demonstrate knowledge and ability in what they consider their strengths (Turk).
Some industries require a PE because only a professional engineer can sign, seal, and submit
plans for approval for either public or private clients. Individuals often choose to obtain a PE
because it gives credibility to their work, most employers favor engineers with a PE over those
without, and professional engineers earn more than unlicensed engineers do over the duration of
their careers (What is a PE?). With a Professional Engineer certification, more opportunities
become available and the scope of possible employment expands greatly.
Mechanical engineering provides a viable career choice to college graduates because of
the greatly varying employment opportunities and the high reward for hard work. The Bureau of
Labor Statistics reported that 258,110 people worked as mechanical engineers in 2012 and
projected the job growth through 2022 at 5 percent. In 2012, mechanical engineers received
yearly salaries ranging from approximately $52,000 to more than $120,000, with the median
salary settling near $80,000. Most mechanical engineers work full time and approximately onethird work more than 40 hours per week. Mechanical engineers generally work in office settings,
but this can vary depending on the particular conditions of employment (Mechanical
Engineers). The high financial compensation and structured work environment mechanical
engineering provides from the very beginning of employment allows young professionals to
begin independent life with a solid financial foundation and plan for long-term success while
retaining large amounts of space for future growth.
Numerous industries employ mechanical engineers, presenting those who enter the field
with the possibility of facing an incredibly broad range of challenges. Companies that

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manufacture electrical generators, internal combustion engines, compressors, automobiles, and
load transfer systems, such as conveyors and elevators, commonly employ mechanical engineers
(Mechanical Engineers). The types of problems facing mechanical engineers vary immensely
by industry of employment, but they typically involve increasing the efficiency or effectiveness
of a current type machine, designing new machines to increase the output of a given amount of
resources, or reducing the impact of a machine on its surrounding environment. To resolve these
problems, mechanical engineers evaluate the specific parameters of a situation, design a
mechanical system to overcome the present challenges, test prototypes to ensure effectiveness,
and, to a degree, oversee the final manufacturing process (Mechanical Engineering). To
optimize the design, engineers must possess a solid understanding of the effects of the flow of
energy through a system, the type and magnitude of forces a product needs endure, and in what
environment it needs to operate; the optimization of the design incorporates making minor
changes to previous designs, the choice of materials, and the manner of construction. While
working, mechanical engineers rely heavily on Computer Aided Design (CAD) to design virtual
models of products and subject them to extensive testing without devoting resources to construct
a physical prototype. This technology helps to improve the quality and rate of production by
providing abundant data about how a product will function when subjected to certain conditions
and allows engineers to make minor changes with ease.
In addition to functioning correctly, a product must also comply with all codes and
restrictions set forth by the customer and government (Banse). After a design passes all tests and
meets all requirements, mechanical engineers determine the most cost effective process for the
production of the desired amount of product, in a given amount of time, within the required
manufacturing tolerances ("What Is Mechanical Engineering?"). By filling this role, mechanical

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engineers hold extreme value in industry and play an essential part in the continual improvement
of industrial machines.
Mechanical engineering contributed most directly to the advancement of society through
the development of the internal combustion engine. Vaclav Smil, the author of more than 30
books on energy the environment, and the history of technical advances, a distinguished
Professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada until 2011, and one of the top 100 global
thinkers named by Foreign Policy, defines an engine as a machine that converts the chemical
energy of a fuel into either reciprocating or rotary motion (21). Internal combustion engines
accomplish this process through combustion occurring within the machine. The internal
combustion engine, a broad category of machines classified by working cycle, ignition method,
basic mechanical design, fuel used, and fuel mixture preparation, embodies the principles and
goals of mechanical engineers into a machine that drives the modern world (Smil 21-22).
Internal combustion engines play a role in accomplishing every task from shipping goods to
generating electricity. Without the internal combustion engine, the world would lose a majority
of its electrical generation capacity, intercontinental transport would cease to exist, and feasible
travel distances would diminish greatly.
The development of the internal combustion engine perfectly exemplifies mechanical
engineerings unrelenting pursuit of greater functionality and efficiency. The two major designs
of reciprocating internal combustion engines, those fueled by gasoline and diesel, both originated
in the late 19th century and sought to replace a preexisting design by providing greater efficiency
and effectiveness in specific roles. Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir patented the first commercially
produced internal combustion engine in 1860 as a superior alternative to steam engines, which
powered essentially all industrial machines at the time. This machine itself promised little

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improvement over steam engines, but it initiated an immediate wave of innovation and invention
that would lead to the incredibly complex and efficient designs of today (Smil 22-32). Both
engine designs have attained extreme success in their pursuit to provide a more efficient means
of power and have become irreplaceable in modern industrial society.
The gasoline fueled internal combustion engine pioneered by German engine designer
Nicholas Augustus Otto and engineers Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Karl Benz
marked the earliest of internal combustion engine designs. Ottos engine design became popular
in the 1870s and pioneered certain features that have persisted through time. The gasoline-fueled
design operates in a way that differs from the operation of preceding steam engines and
subsequent diesel engines and provides unique advantages and disadvantages. Gasoline engines
operate with three distinct design features: relatively low compression ratios, ignition by electric
spark, and a need for the lightest liquid fuel refined from crude oil (Smil 23). The throttle of a
gasoline engine controls the volume of a premixed ratio of fuel and air entering the engine.
Because controlling the fuel-air flow in a set ratio limits the flow of air through the engine along
with the fuel, whenever the engine operates at anything less than maximum output, it pumps
under a partial vacuum in the cylinders, which lowers efficiency. The fixed ratio at which
gasoline engines mix fuel and air before combustion causes gasoline engines to produce large
amounts of excess heat since heat cannot dissipate through surrounding air because combustion
uses all air drawn into the engine. The low ratio of compression of gases within the cylinders
also causes excess heat because the gases cannot cool through expansion. The gasoline fuel
itself limits the compression ratios of this type of engine because, if compressed too highly, the
fuel air mixture will detonate early and damage the engine (Ciatti). This early detonation,
commonly known as knock, hinders gasoline engines because higher compression ratios allow

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engines to extract more energy from a given amount of fuel. Gasoline producers, attempting to
prevent early detonation, added lead and ethanol to gasoline because both substances increase the
amount of compression necessary to detonate a gasoline-air mixture; ethanol replaced lead after
health and environmental concerns arose over its use. While gasoline prevents high compression
ratios, it provides a much higher energy density than the coal gas that early prototypes burned,
allowing for greater efficiency. Ignition by electric spark makes this type of engine unsuited for
large applications because this design cannot function efficiently at displacements, or total
engine volumes, of more than ten liters when fueled by gasoline; while slightly modified engines
of high displacement designed to burn natural gas or biogases do exist, they operate less
efficiently than comparable engines of other designs. The peak efficiencies of modern, properly
maintained, spark ignition engines reach upwards of approximately thirty-two percent, daily use
engines typically have efficiencies of twenty to twenty five percent, and the highest efficiency
engines produced operate at forty percent efficiency (Smil 27-38). Although the design of
gasoline engines retains certain inefficiencies, it allows for an easily produced, relatively
inexpensive, easy to maintain engine that effectively fills countless roles, from powering nearly
all passenger cars in the United States to powering small generators used for everything from
camping to tailgating.
The second type of reciprocating internal combustion engine, patented in 1862, takes the
name of its inventor, Rudolf Diesel. Diesel initially designed his engine to create a more
efficient machine that would suit larger industrial purposes better than a steam engine. He
created the design through a theoretical analysis of scientific principles, rather than
experimentation. This led him to attempt to incorporate several design elements that proved

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practically impossible, but after redesign and improvement, led to other features that defined the
design and provided numerous advantages while posing certain challenges (Smil 45-58).
Diesels design, while sharing many basic operational features with gasoline-fueled
engines, functions slightly differently. The largest differences between gasoline engines and
diesel engines are the manner of mixing fuel and air and the method of ignition. While gasoline
engines premix fuel and air in a set ratio, diesel engines do not restrict the flow of air through the
engine, taking in approximately nine times the volume of air necessary for complete combustion,
and inject only the amount of fuel needed directly into the cylinders. Immediately after fuel
injection, the fuel-air mixture within the cylinders becomes so highly compressed that the
ambient temperature within the cylinder exceeds the ignition temperature of the fuel and
combustion occurs without a spark (Smil 53). The ignition of fuel through compression allows
for much higher compression ratios than used in gasoline-fueled engines because combustion
occurs immediately after injection, eliminating the possibility of early ignition or knock.
However, immediate combustion limits the duration of air and fuel interaction before
combustion, which prevents an even mixture. This leads to fuel rich areas that do not completely
combust and produce soot, nitrogen oxides, and other harmful emissions; these emissions require
more thorough and costly exhaust treatments to meet environmental regulations in comparison to
gasoline engines (Ciatti). Highly compressing excess air allows diesel engines to operate at
relatively low temperatures because some of the heat can dissipate throughout the excess air not
used for combustion and the greater expansion, due to the high compression, partially cools the
gases. The diesel fuel combusted also helps increase efficiency over gasoline-fueled engines
because diesel fuel has an energy density twelve percent higher than gasoline. Because diesel
engines operate at the same efficiency regardless of displacement, and because of their incredible

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reliability, durability, robust design, and much more distant service intervals compared to other
engine designs, they function very well in large-scale industrial applications, including stationary
power generation, heavy-duty trucks, and large shipping vessels. Diesel engines power virtually
all intercontinental shipping, most bulk transport on roads, rails, and waterways, and provide
power for any industrial task (Smil 35-111). The engine design of Rudolf Diesel provides the
large-scale power generation that modern industry depends upon for nearly every task, which
previous engines could not provide, and demonstrates the immense impact mechanical
engineering has on society.
Both gasoline and diesel fueled engines have improved greatly in recent decades with the
development of new technologies that complement the operation of each engine. The largest
improvements have arisen from forced induction, fuel injection, and electronic control systems.
Forced induction systems, superchargers and turbochargers, increase the density of air in the
combustion chamber, allowing more fuel to burn in a given displacement, increasing engine
power, decreasing emissions, helping engines operate regularly at high altitudes, and decreasing
fuel consumption. Superchargers and turbochargers operate very similarly but differ in how the
compressor is driven. The engine drives superchargers via a belt and exhaust gases rotate the
turbine of a turbocharger, which spins the compressor via a shaft (Martin). The addition of
forced induction systems has allowed engine makers to decrease displacement and increase fuel
efficiency while maintaining power output (Sanchez). New fuel injection systems have made
major improvements to both diesel and gasoline fueled engines. Diesel engines have benefited
most from injection technology, particularly the common rail injection system invented by the
Bosch Company in 1997. Common rail injection separates the generation of injection pressure
from the injection event itself. A pump operating independently of the engine maintains fuel

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pressure in an accumulator, or common rail, from which fuel flows into individual injectors.
This injection method results in better engine performance, lower fuel consumption, lower
emissions, and reduced engine noise (Smil 123-124). New direct injection systems used on
gasoline engines have begun to overcome the historically lower fuel efficiency and torque
outputs in comparison to diesel engines of similar displacements (Sanchez). Advancements in
electronic engine controls have eliminated the need for mechanical components, such as chain
drives, camshafts, exhaust valve actuators, and governors, increasing both efficiency and
reliability. The implementation of particulate filters, catalytic convertors, and the injection of
urea mist into diesel exhaust has further lowered the emission of harmful greenhouse gases,
nitrogen oxides, and soot to minute levels. (Smil 109-162). All of these technological
improvements have resulted from mechanical engineers constant pursuit of improving of
mechanical systems.
Efficiency and environmental concerns pose the greatest challenges to mechanical
engineers in regards to engine design. The public opinion continues to move towards protecting
the environment, which requires engineers to reduce the emissions and fuel consumption of
engine designs. To accomplish this, engineers have developed entirely new engine systems that
operate much more efficiently than previous designs. Of these new systems, hybrid systems and
hydrogen fuel cells appear most promising. Common hybrid engine systems operate by using an
internal combustion engine to generate power to drive an electric motor that performs some form
of work, such as driving wheels or moving cargo. Hybrid systems offer higher efficiency than
using only an internal combustion engine because, by functioning as a generator, the internal
combustion engine only operates under ideal conditions, allowing for the greatest possible fuel
efficiency. Using electric motors to perform work also takes advantage of the characteristics of

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electric motors and the irrelevance of gearing them for most applications. High efficiency cars,
locomotives, and other experimental vehicles commonly use hybrid systems; these systems
typically use gasoline-fueled engines as generators, but those used on locomotives use diesel
engines and some prototypes use turbine engines. New developments in hydrogen fuel cells may
lead them to replace, rather supplement, internal combustion engines. Hydrogen fuel cells
operate through a chemical reaction that splits hydrogen gas, uses the electrons to do work in an
electrical circuit, then recombines the protons, electrons, and atmospheric oxygen to create water
as the only byproduct (A Basic Overview). Both hybrid and fuel cell technologies possess the
potential to begin a new era of mobile power generation that will forever change the world, but
will require mechanical engineers to develop them to that point.
Mechanical engineering rewards those who work diligently throughout life and strive for
constant improvement of the things surrounding them. It provides a promising career to those
who choose to pursue it through high financial compensation, chances to improve the operation
of modern society, and a broad horizon of future opportunity. Without mechanical engineers,
many of the things taken for granted by most of the world would not exist and some of the
largest problems facing humanity would remain forever unresolved. Mechanical engineering
will continue to shape the world through a unique sense of invention and innovation and provide
young people with a challenging, but incredibly rewarding profession.

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