TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Mechanical designers create technical drawings based on the mechanical engineer's specifications and plans.
The difference between mechanical design and engineering is that mechanical engineers design machines and mechanical systems, while mechanical designers create technical drawings based on the engineer's specifications. While the jobs are similar, there are differences in educational requirements and salary. If you enjoy working with numbers, solving problems and designing new things, a career as a mechanical engineer or mechanical designer could be enjoyable, while providing a stable income. Reliable hours and benefits make these ideal careers for those supporting a family or planning for a stable financial future.
Mechanical engineers design mechanical products or systems that fulfill a specific function or purpose. They work in a wide variety of settings, like the automotive industry, construction, the medical equipment manufacturing sector and more. Their skills and training prepare them to work on any machine or system with moving parts. They use mathematics and physics to determine the best designs and plans for a particular project. Efficiency and cost-effectiveness are often important considerations for mechanical engineers, who strive to create machines and parts that work well while keeping costs down.
Mechanical designers, often called drafters, are responsible for creating technical drawings based on the engineer's specifications. They often complete their work using Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs that allow for detailed and precise drawings based on the engineer's plans. Computer skills, precision, math and physics are important skills for mechanical designers. Although they do not create the broader ideas and systems that the engineers do, they must follow the engineer's instructions precisely to ensure that the end product is functional, safe, efficient and effective.
While mechanical engineers must have a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or a related field, mechanical designers must only complete an associate's degree in drafting to get started. Those who want to begin earning an income quickly might consider becoming a drafter first and then transfer to a four-year institution to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. While drafting programs focus mostly on CAD, drawing, design and computer skills, engineering programs are heavy in more complex mathematics and physics. Some engineers find that their bachelor's degree takes longer than four years to complete, so allow some wiggle room in your schedule, in case your schooling takes slightly longer than anticipated. Some schools offer 6-year programs that allow you to earn your bachelor's and master's degree in mechanical engineering at the same time.
Licensure is not required for either mechanical engineers or mechanical designers. Voluntary certification for mechanical designers is available through The American Drafting Design Association and can help you gain an edge in the job market. Most entry-level mechanical engineers do not hold a license, but some decide to pursue a Professional Engineering (PE) license later in their career to open up more opportunities for advancement.
Mechanical designers earn a median annual salary of $54,170, while mechanical engineers earn a median annual salary of $85,880. The top 10 percent of mechanical designers earn more than $84,180, while the bottom 10 percent earns less than $34,350. In contrast, the top 10 percent of mechanical engineers earn more than $133,900, while the bottom 10 percent earns less than $55,310.
Both mechanical engineers and mechanical designers tend to work in office settings. They often work in architectural, engineering and related service industries. Some also work in machinery manufacturing, research and development or computer manufacturing. Though they spend most of their time in the office, sometimes projects present the opportunity to meet and work in the field.
Years of Experience
Salary tends to increase with experience for both mechanical engineers and mechanical designers. One projection of a mechanical design engineer salary looks like this:
- Entry-Level: $64,688
- Mid-Career: $77,172
- Experienced: $87,758
- Late-Career: $98,494
The salary projection for mechanical designers is slightly lower, but still, it's a solid wage that increases over time.
- Entry-Level: $52,083
- Mid-Career: $56,133
- Experienced: $61,553
- Late-Career: $67,822
Job Growth Trend
While job opportunities for mechanical designers are expected to increase by 6 percent over the next decade, opportunities for mechanical engineers are expected to increase by 9 percent, about the same as in other industries. Competition for mechanical designer positions is expected to be steep, so work to keep your grades up, get a good internship while in school and secure certification to stand out from the crowd. Competition for mechanical engineers is not quite as steep, though graduates with a firm grasp of computer design and the latest software have an edge over the competition.
- PayScale: Mechanical Engineer Salary
- PayScale: Mechanical Designer Salary
- Salary.com: Mechanical Engineer Salaries
- Salary.com: Mechanical Designer Salaries
- Learn.org: What is Mechanical Engineering?
- Learn.org: Mechanical Drafting and Design
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mechanical Engineers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Drafters
- Job Descriptions: Mechanical Engineer Job Description
- Job Descriptions: Drafting Job Description
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images