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I'm going back to college next year to pursue a career in mechanical engineering. I was wondering, along with the theoretical and CAD material you learn, is it customary that ME students learn how to use lathes, mills and other shop equipment, or is that solely taught to technicians?

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  • $\begingroup$ you ought to say where in the world you are. (or are planning to go) $\endgroup$ – agentp Jan 10 '18 at 15:10
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That depends on the Uni and the course and who they do or don’t work with in industry.

My course had 4 weeks of worshop courses : welding etc but that was rare as Unis go, I got an exemption as I was apprentice-trained...

Most of my friends in other Unis were jealous of the extent of our equipment : wind tunnels (subsonic and supersonic) single cylinder engines petrol and diesel, a jet engine, water pumps axial, kaplan and pelton turbines, water flow channels for Reynolds numbers etc, tribology equipment, also some state of the art stress/strain test gear that was also doing research for industry... Electrical, electronic and digital stuff etc...

So, check out what is specified for the course... Just re-read your question : most colleges do have a larger practical element , in my apprenticeship many things were covered that were not covered at work, but work covered some things in more detail.

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I agree with Solar Mike. It completely depends on the university.

I would take my university as an example. During my time as an undergraduate, there are two types of internships I have to do, basic internship and advanced internship.

The basic one was rather broad and primarily focussed on presenting me the vast fields of mechanical engineering (the practical part, like turning objects on a lathe or repairing broken or defect parts), the advanced one was rather focussed on topics that you would encounter as an engineer (construction, like CAD drawings, research, and analysis, project planning, testing and so on).

The following list shows the preferred fields that a ME student of my university should work in (GP [Grundpraktikum] = basic internship, FP [Fachpraktikum] = advanced internship). Since I'm in a German university, the list will be in German, but the main point of this post was already mentioned in the above text.

  • GP1: Spanende Fertigungsverfahren
  • GP2: Umformende Fertigungsverfahren
  • GP3: Urformende Fertigungsverfahren
  • GP4: Thermische Füge- u. Trennverfahren
  • GP5: Instandhaltung, Wartung, Reparatur
  • GP6: Montage, Demontage
  • FP1: Wärmebehandlung
  • FP2: Werkzeug-, Prüfstands- und Vorrichtungsbau
  • FP3: Oberflächentechnik
  • FP4: Messen, Prüfen, Qualitätskontrolle
  • FP5: Fertigungssteuerung
  • FP6: Fachrichtungsbezogene praktische Tätigkeit nach Absprache mit dem Praktikumsamt
  • FP11: Konstruktion, Entwicklung, Forschung
  • FP12: Erprobung, Prüfstandsversuche
  • FP13: Arbeitsvorbereitung
  • FP14: Projektierung, Produktprogrammplanung
  • FP15: Produktions- und Fabrikplanung
  • FP16: Ingenieurdienstleistungen
  • FP17: Fachrichtungsbezogene praktische Tätigkeit nach Absprache mit dem Praktikumsamt

Another way to get in contact with it is to work in an institute. I, for example, work in an institute of my university. We focus on forming technologies and we (student assistants) do the testing and the analysis for the engineers that work on their Ph.D.'s or other work-related subjects. But we also have a lot of external institutes (like the Fraunhofer Institute) nearby, so some of my friends work there.

So, if your university of choice doesn't offer this kind of work or experience, you could always check and see, if there are companies that offer "student jobs", as it is called. It is a part-time job (sometimes even less) and there are many benefits (something to add to your CV, and this is a huge plus!!, getting real working experience, learning new programs and things you never learned in university, getting more or less flexible hours, especially in your exams period and so on.)

As I'm already off track by now, I would also go over some of your assumptions. Not all university offer the same treatment. For example, my university didn't offer as much CAD as I'd hoped for. We learned a little bit about AutoCAD in my 4th semester and that was it. I had to take special classes to learn a little bit more about CATIA V5 and CAD in general.

To summarize everything, when you plan to study ME and you have the choice, where to go to, I would recommend that you check out their homepages and see for yourself what they offer (sometimes even calling and talking to them, where you can directly ask questions about some parts that are unclear). And you should inform yourself about the surroundings of the university. What companies are there? Which of those of student jobs? What kind of field do I want to work in? Do I want a sole university experience or do I want to work in an external company (benefit here: they might hire you after your graduation)?

I hope, you have a better picture of what you should expect and what you should consider when going to study ME (although I just covered the practical part. You should definitely think about your field of interest and if your university has the right specializations if you already know what you want to do after that).

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Lik3wise and Solar Mike. You've both been very helpful. Tomorrow, I'll contact the local university and get more information regarding their program. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jan 10 '18 at 5:53
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It depends on the course.

In the UK most undergraduate engineering degrees will have content which varies a lot. However, even in the most practically focused courses there just isn't time to get any sort of serious grounding in hands-on manufacturing.

My degree ended up being split between Bristol and Birmingham. At Bristol they one of the first things they got us to do was to make a load cell from scratch and fairly early on we had to make, in groups, a machine for sorting various 'casino' chips in steel, aluminium and opaque and transparent plastic and we had to demonstrate it in front of the whole year, they also got us to design an aircraft gearbox on actual paper. Birmingham was much more theory focused and there was much more CAD/CAM and lab work.

But an engineering degree is definitely not a particularly good way to learn how to make stuff in a practical sense.

For what its worth I now make metal sculpture and I learned more about making tings doing that than I did in my engineering degree BUT the theoretical background is actually pretty useful as it teaches you how to analyse practical problems.

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