Engineering is a competitive field in the US, but also one of massive potential growth. More and more industries are seeing the need for competent engineers, and the rising number of engineering jobs in a wide variety of places will illustrate that – but many of those jobs appear to fall in one of two categories: mechanical engineering, or industrial engineering. These may seem like they refer to the same thing, but they speak to different disciplines – so what is the difference?
What is Mechanical Engineering?
Mechanical engineering is a wide-ranging discipline, founded on an understanding of material physics and the interrelationships of objects, forces and motion. Mechanical engineers design, construct and repair mechanisms which fulfil a specific purpose in a larger system or machine; mechanical engineering careers span industries, as engineering is crucial to the real-world interaction and upkeep of complicated equipment in every walk of life.
What is industrial Engineering?
Industrial engineering is a different kind of discipline rooted in the same basic skills and understanding. Industrial engineers design, maintain and optimize systems and processes which are used in industrial applications. These are often large-scale processes with many different moving parts and interactions, which are involved in large-scale production or servicing.
Mechanical engineering is typically a discipline centered in research and development; mechanical engineers seek to solve individual problems with analysis and understanding of said problem and the appropriate materials and resources with which to resolve it. This problem might be as small as improving the mechanical efficiency of an existing system, or as large as pioneering a new mechanism entirely for a unique purpose. Mechanical engineers do not often engage with the bigger picture in this process, instead seeking to solve the problem presented to them. Industrial engineering, on the other hand, requires a wider understanding of processes as a whole, and how they interact. Industrial engineers are better suited to on-site roles, ensuring the systems deliver as they should. Mechanical engineers work on smaller details with a greater level of refinement and precision, while industrial engineers use general knowledge and best practice to run larger systems.
The disciplines are similar in that they have similar requirements for knowledge and skills. Both must understand material dynamics and the basics of certain mechanistic principles, as well as retain the practical skills necessary to machine and construct unique parts – as well as repair existing parts. To that end, both kinds of engineer will have the same contents in their toolkit: extensive screwdrivers, sockets and wrenches for assembly and disassembly; a multimeter for electronic diagnostics; wires, a soldering iron, and crimpers for wiring and wire connection repair; pliers for deforming and reshaping materials; and hammers for ‘percussive maintenance’.
Whichever path you take in pursuit of a career in engineering, the work is high-skilled and highly rewarded. Each discipline has its own unique challenges and benefits, but both represent a robust way to contribute in a hands-on way, and apply your knowledge not only in a useful way, but a rewarding one also.