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What it’s really like to be a mechanical engineer


Student and race car in ECU’s motorsports lab on the Joondalup Campus.
ECU’s motorsports lab on the Joondalup Campus.

Mechanical engineering is not just about science and figures. It’s a profession involving problem solving and creativity.

It’s also Australia’s second most in demand engineering profession, with mechanical engineers working across all types of industries including energy, construction, aerospace, automotive and medical technology.

What does a mechanical engineer do?

Mechanical engineers are like inventors. They look at problems and come up with solutions to design and redesign mechanical devices.

ECU School of Engineering Senior Lecturer Dr Kevin Hayward says it suits people who are inquisitive.

“If you were the sort of chid who used to build Lego models, enjoyed the satisfaction of creating something, and like problem solving then this could be for you,” he says.

The ECU race car in testing at an airfield in the UK.
The ECU race car in testing at an airfield in the UK.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Mechanical engineers are in demand in WA, with the second most job openings in any engineering field (just behind civil engineering).

“Think of the oil and gas industry and all the automation which is needed. And we’re not just talking about the bigger machines, but excavators, underwater drilling machines and even drones,” Dr Hayward says.

One area of recent growth is in the automotive sector. For those with a need for speed, ECU offers students the chance to specialise in motorsports.

Track invasion by motorsport engineers

ECU is the only university in the southern hemisphere which offers a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) Honours with a motorsports option.

Students work in a close knit team to design, fabricate and test an open wheel race car. They then take their car to formula competitions interstate and internationally, including the prestigious Silverstone race track in the UK.

“This degree is quite intensive but also very practical as students are learning skills which they can apply directly,” Dr Hayward says.

“The motorsport industry is very demanding but it’s pretty prestigious to be working for a top racing team.”

In 2016 the ECU Motorsports Team travelled to Silverstone to compete in the UK Formula Student competition. Their ground-breaking design helped them to a top 10 finish.

ECU’s Motorsport Engagement Co-ordinator John Hurney says the project was a great success.

“The car’s overall weight helped its performance. It was about 10 per cent of the average family vehicle. By using carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb for much of the car’s chassis we were able to keep the weight of the car down,” he explains.

“We had to check the car’s aerodynamic properties through a digital engineering program. It’s this type of digital analysis and expertise that is the future for this industry.”

ECU race car
ECU race car in action

Gearing up for more success

A graduate of this course was recruited as a trackside support engineer for the Toyota Racing Development NASCAR team.

Jon Grove, a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, developed a strong interest in engine development while at ECU.

“I get to work with fast cars every day. This course meant I could select elements of motorsports engineering which really fascinated me and that was engines,” he says.

“I could never have dreamt that I’d have this opportunity working with NASCAR, at the Indianapolis 400 and the Daytona 500 and working for such a large company like Toyota.

“The ECU training gave me the expertise directly needed in this industry. A lot of the dyno and electronic systems are universal.

“I’d like to work up the global ladder and to see how far I could go. Formula 1 would be a big goal, I love motorsports and I think I’ll always like to be involved in some way.”

Want to learn more?

For more information about kick starting your career as a mechanical engineer, check out the Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) Honours course page.

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