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What it's like to be a mechanical engineer

June 25, 2014, 10:49 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 902

By riazhussain

Though thought is an abstract phenomenon, it gives birth to concrete marvels in the real world. The vast world of engineering bears witness to this simple but strange dictum. Engineers transform resources into useful devices, products, engines, systems, structures, machines, weapons and infrastructural developments. They have provided excellent solutions to our complex problems. The pyramids in Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Roman aqueducts, Via Appia , the Colosseum, the Mayan cities, Inca and Aztec Empires and the Great wall of China stand as evidence of the creative contributions engineers and architects made to human civilization in the past. In addition to these architectural wonders, engineering has also channelized and revolutionized the dynamics of motion. The discipline of engineering that deals with motion or anything that moves on the earth is mechanical engineering.

The latter is one of the oldest engineering disciplines. Without systems designed with motion such as means of transportation, power generation units, biotechnology devices, fluidic systems, environmental controlling systems and other marvels of mechanical engineering, modern human life would have moved at a much slower pace.

Actually, it is curiosity which seems to inspire people to take interest in engineering. ‘When you start to wonder how things work, explains Marco Franchino, a 28-year old mechanical engineer who is our interviewee for this story, ‘you are on the good path to become an engineer’.

Though he originated from Vercelli, in the North West of Italy (in the Piedmont region) -- a small town halfway from Turin and Milan -- he currently works for Sheffield University in the UK. 

Describing his current job, he said, ‘I work for Sheffield University’s AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) and for our main partners, Rolls Royce and Boeing, in aerospace and mechanical engineering (mainly cost modelling and optimization of the industrial processes and components)’. Giving us an example of the products of mechanical engineering, he alluded to the wind turbine which powers the AMRC department of Sheffield University. 

When we asked him how his interest developed in engineering, he pointed out that he had been inquisitive about the workings of things since his childhood. He was good at science subjects. It provided him much fun and satisfaction to understand how a thing worked and why it was designed in a certain way. Then, he decided to become an engineer. He further explained, ‘Engineering was the perfect field to develop further these skills. The choice of “mechanical” was made on the base that’s probably the most eclectic of the engineering branches, a factor really on the same page with my personality. Not to mention my passion for cars, especially sport cars. I always visit motor shows like the Geneva motor show’.

Then, he told us about the devices and mechanical components, he has been working on. He pointed out that he got his master’s degree graduation in 2011. While working on his master's thesis, he tried to discover the mechanical properties of high resistance tissue (Kevlar). He tested several types of such materials covered with an anti-bacterial film. 

In addition, he also worked on the special chamber used for the deposition of the anti-bacterial coating on the tissues. 

He started with his engineering positions in Italy—his native country. He worked there with Bosch Rexroth, Modena and Meritor as well as Novara. He worked with oleo-dynamic valves. He was involved in the optimization of the production lines.  He has also been implicated in the costing and optimization of mechanical components.

Talking about his diverse experience in mechanical engineering, he said, ‘I have worked with really many and different kind of products: valves for scraper, vacuum cleaners, trucks and plane motors components… and I’m still at the beginning’. The last words of this citation point to his keenness and interest in the filed.

He says that the best absolute thing about engineering is that it never ceases to engage your curiosity. He says, ‘It’s such a dynamic work that you can’t be bored. If you are eclectic enough and curious enough it can be the best job in the world. I also enjoy when I have the possibility to work in an international team, it’s very stimulating because I can share my experiences and other people do the same… also not related with work. It’s a bit like traveling’. Our next question was about the absolute worst things in the profession. The first absolute worst thing he pointed out was bureaucratic interventions and hurdles. He said, ‘The first thing is all that isn’t related to engineering and optimization… For example, I experienced many pointless meetings. I mean all the bureaucratic processes which involve writing reports and making presentations in standard forms (and every place has its own different standard). On account of such difficulties related to the form, one may sometimes lose the focus on content. Another thing in the field of optimization is the resistance to change. Many times people point out that there’s no reason to change the things (for example, a process) while they’re still working well. I think, there’s always a possibility to improve or at least the possibility to find a better way. Many times you go back to your steps but at least you have tried a new path and maybe it can be useful in the future’.

His love for mechanical engineering is not solely for the sake of money. We asked Marco, ‘If you won the lottery tonight, would you still keep at it, and why?’ He said, ‘It’s a good question. I think I’ll continue with my profession but may be independently; I’ll probably create something on my own, may be investing in some good idea. When you put together young people with brilliant ideas something great can happen’.

Giving his advice to those who are considering this line of work, he said, It is a hard and tough profession and if you do not have the skills and the capacity to have a dynamic mind and the thirst to challenge yourself, you can easily fail. On the other side, if you have these qualities and the desire to develop them, you can easily enjoy the profession'.

Summarizing what it is like to be a mechanical engineer , he says, 'It is all about understanding how things work and, hopefully make them better'. 

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