What Is the Difference between a Mechanical and Structural Engineer?

A mechanical engineer and a structural engineer have a lot in common. Both must complete a rigorous educational program and use math and science in their work. The nature of the work they do is the main distinction between the two. Mechanical engineers concentrate on mechanical elements such as machines and parts, while structural engineers design structures such as bridges and buildings. There are also minor differences in the courses required for the various degrees.

Civil engineering has long been associated with structural engineering. Dams, buildings, sewer systems, bridges, and roads are all designed civil engineers. Structures such as sports arenas, buildings, bridges, and communications towers are typically the focus of a structural engineer. Most collaborate closely with architects and construction companies, as well as surveyors and engineers who specialize in different fields.

Mechanical engineers create tools and machines, as well as industrial robots and building heating and cooling systems. Others specialize in medical equipment, power plants, or manufacturing, while others specialize in aircraft, automobiles, or boats. A mechanical engineer is likely to play or have played a key role in the development of any operation that involves the use or production of mechanical power or heat.

A mechanical and structural engineer must work together on many projects. An office tower, for example, could be designed an architect. The structural engineer will then examine the blueprints and specifications to ensure that the structure can withstand the stresses that will be applied to it. The mechanical engineer will design the heating and air conditioning system, ventilation requirements, and assist in the development of the building’s elevators and escalators once the building has been deemed structurally sound.

A four-year degree in engineering is required for both a mechanical and structural engineer, but many structural engineers have a four-year degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in structural engineering. The core courses for a mechanical and structural engineer are essentially the same. Physics, advanced mathematics, chemistry, fluid dynamics, and electronics are among the subjects they study. Students studying structural engineering will take more material science classes to learn about the strengths and composition of concrete, wood, and other building materials. Hydraulics, energy conversion, fuels, and thermodynamics will be covered in greater depth mechanical engineers.