Mechanical engineering technology programs prepare people to help engineers who work on mechanical systems. Students learn to design, build, and test mechanical systems. They also learn to run and maintain equipment.
Machines are everywhere, big and small, from bulldozers to electric shavers. Engineering teams design these machines, and technologists and technicians are important members of those teams. The engineer's design is meant to solve a real-life problem. The technologists and technicians prove that it will: They make the design work.
As a mechanical engineering technologist, you work closely with engineers. Therefore in college you study enough math and science to be able to evaluate a design while it is still a concept. Since machines use energy, you learn about principles of physics that describe the energy of stress, motion, and heat. You study the properties of materials, such as metals, that are used in machines. How long will the materials planned for this machine be able to withstand the heat and stress they are subjected to? Can some other materials be substituted? You learn how to evaluate the economic aspects of a design. How much will it cost to produce the machine? How much money will the machine save, compared to using existing machines? Your program probably includes a senior project that lets you work as part of an engineering team solving a real problem. You may be responsible for creating a prototype of a machine from the design, or you may oversee testing of the prototype.
Such a program requires four years of full-time study beyond high school and earns you a bachelor's degree. About 70 colleges offer this degree.
As a technician, your role in the engineering team is more likely to be specialized. You may use computer-aided drafting (CAD) to represent the engineer's design. You may set up instruments to measure the speed and vibration of the machine during a test, or you may collect data on the wear of machine parts over time. You may estimate the labor costs of a design project. You may write a report on the outcomes of the project.
To be a technician, you need only two years of education beyond high school. (A few three-year programs are also available.) This schooling earns you an associate degree and is offered at about 200 colleges. The science and math are not as rigorous as in a four-year program, but you study enough of them to learn the scientific method that is central to engineering projects. You also learn how to use tools such as engineering instruments and CAD. Some programs include opportunities for supervised work experience in engineering settings.