Some careers primarily require creativity, while others primarily require technical competencies. And then there is product engineering, which requires both. If you have a creative mindset, but you also enjoy science, mathematics and the use of sophisticated software, then you might consider pursuing a career in product development engineering.
This career guide explores the role of these professionals, along with a typical product engineer job description. You’ll also learn how to get started on the pathway toward becoming a product development engineer.
How Do Product Engineers Contribute to the Manufacturing Process?
In California, an 11-year-old girl eagerly opens a birthday gift to discover this year’s new, must-have toy. In Michigan, a car aficionado shops for a new vehicle with the latest safety innovations. In Arizona, a doctor helps a patient learn how to use a prosthetic limb.
What do all of these fictitious stories have in common? Teams of product development engineers made them all possible. Rather than considering "what does a product development engineer do?," it's easier to ask, "what don't they do?"
A product development engineer is responsible for designing and creating new products. Although these engineers mainly work in manufacturing, they can work for a diverse range of different industries — from aerospace to medical to automotive to consumer packaged goods (CPGs). In short, there is a world of possibilities that awaits students who decide to pursue a career in product development engineering.
The Role of a Product Engineer
A product development engineer may be involved with the development of new products through their lifecycle — from conception to quality control. They work with a variety of professionals, including those in market research, to develop the ideas for new products. For instance, they can study market research to determine what consumers want in a new product.
The design team will also consider any applicable market regulations that may affect the design and manufacture of a new product. After developing the concept for a new product, the product development engineer will create the manufacturing process required for it.
The specific tasks will vary, depending on the specific industry and company, but in general, a typical product engineer job description may include the following:
- Evaluate market research and regulations to develop new product concepts
- Use sophisticated software to create the design for the new product
- Develop the manufacturing process needed for the new product
- Create product prototypes and test them for safety, durability and effectiveness
- Adjust the design of the product as needed to make it safer, or more durable and effective
- Supervise the initial phase of the manufacturing process
Although it’s important to company executives that their brand sells products that are innovative, useful or in other ways desirable to consumers, company executives are also concerned with manufacturing costs. For this reason, product development engineers must pay attention to the cost-effectiveness of the procedures and materials they use.
Becoming a Product Development Engineer
If the product engineer job description appeals to you, you can get started right now on your career path, even if you’re still in high school. Talk to your guidance counselor about adding more mathematics and science courses to your schedule. Your high school might not offer an engineering class, but classes in physics, electronics and computer applications (especially computer-aided design) will be helpful.
When you’re ready to start your college search, look for a school with a strong science, engineering and technology department. You’ll want to earn a degree in mechanical engineering, rather than a different type of engineering, as mechanical engineering is most applicable to the manufacturing field.
It isn’t strictly mandatory to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. However, you may choose to do so in order to enhance your career qualifications and acquire advanced skills.
After gaining some experience in the field as an entry-level product development engineer or quality control specialist, you may decide to earn a voluntary professional certification. Employers may not always require their job candidates to have a certification, although they may prefer it.
Earn Your Mechanical Engineering Degree
After high school, the first step toward becoming a product development engineer is to earn a relevant degree. A mechanical engineering degree is a great choice because it focuses specifically on the competencies that future product development engineers need.
Earning your mechanical engineering degree will take four years of full-time study. Although you may be able to complete some classes online, depending on your school, it’s not typically possible to complete the full degree online. This is because you’ll need to complete in-person labs in order to gain hands-on learning experiences.
Like other engineering specialties, the mechanical engineering subfield is geared toward developing practical and cost-effective solutions to real-world problems. To prepare you for this exciting career, you’ll likely study topics such as the following:
- Calculus for science professions, including differentiation, optimization, integration and graphing
- Fundamental concepts in computer-aided design (CAD), including both 2D and 3D modeling, mechanical tolerances and mechanical design integration
- Manufacturing processes and methods, with a look at casting, metrology, welding, machining and computer-aided manufacturing
- The mechanical properties of various materials used in manufacturing processes, including metals and composites
- Methods of the design and analysis of mechanical systems
Your mechanical engineering degree may include one or more capstone projects. These are opportunities to put what you’ve learned in the classroom to work in the real world. Give these projects your best efforts, as they may help you land your first job after graduation.
It’s not strictly mandatory for engineers to put together a portfolio of their work before applying to jobs, as not all employers will ask for them. However, having a portfolio could benefit your job search efforts. If you do well on your capstone projects, you could use them to begin building a professional portfolio.
Gain Entry-Level Work Experience
After graduating with your bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, you’ll be ready to look for your first job. Expect to qualify for an entry-level position to start with. For instance, you may start out in the field as a quality control specialist or an entry-level product engineer before you work your way up to senior-level roles.
Obtain Voluntary Professional Certifications
Product engineers aren’t always required to have professional certifications on top of a degree. However, earning one or two of them can certainly benefit your advancement opportunities.
When looking for a relevant professional certification, it’s generally best to choose one administered by a reputable industry organization. For instance, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is a professional organization that offers both certificate and certification programs for engineers.
Essential Skills and Characteristics for Product Development Engineers
While you’re working your way through college, you can actively strive to cultivate some of the important skills and characteristics for product development engineers. All types of engineers can benefit from having a sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness. Their curious nature drives them to develop new products or create improvements to existing products.
Other important skills and traits include the following:
- Creative thinking
- Innovative problem solving
- Critical thinking and analytical reasoning
- Interpersonal skills
You can begin your journey toward pursuing a worthwhile career in mechanical engineering when you apply for enrollment at Grand Canyon University. The College of Science, Engineering and Technology is pleased to offer the Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology and the Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree programs, which fuse together classroom instruction with hands-on learning opportunities in real-world contexts. With these programs, students can learn how to improve the function of mechanical objects, and how to design, analyze, use and manufacture mechanical objects.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.