A mechanical maintenance engineer is a person who carries out maintenance on mechanical systems and equipment. Mechanical maintenance engineers play a key role in ensuring that the mechanical systems and equipment in domestic, commercial and industrial environments function efficiently.
So, what does a mechanical maintenance engineer do?
The maintenance tasks performed by mechanical maintenance engineers can be divided into two types: time-based maintenance (also known as planned, scheduled, preventive or routine maintenance) and unplanned maintenance (also called unscheduled, corrective, reactive or breakdown maintenance).
In time-based maintenance, the mechanical maintenance engineer performs maintenance checks at regular intervals and acts preventively to avoid situations from arising that may compromise the proper functioning of machinery and equipment, e.g. replacing worn components, lubricating gears, motors, pumps and mechanical moving parts, changing out dull tools, calibrating instruments and replacing filters, gears, valves, tubes and cables.
A specific sub-group of time-based maintenance is known as predictive maintenance, which is based on the expected life span of an item of machinery or equipment. Predictive maintenance aims to prevent unplanned downtime by ensuring that components are replaced before their expiry date. To achieve this aim, maintenance is performed according to a schedule, which is typically set by the maintenance manager.
Planned maintenance interventions may require operations to be interrupted. Any such downtime needs to be scheduled by mechanical maintenance engineers in agreement with their co-workers (e.g. technicians, production operatives and other employees).
If an unexpected failure occurs, mechanical maintenance engineers carry out unplanned corrective maintenance (also known as reactive, unplanned or breakdown maintenance). The first step of corrective maintenance is fault analysis, which involves identifying the cause of a failure using diagnostic tools and selecting the most appropriate procedures to resolve the issue and restore functionality. The mechanical maintenance engineer may be required to disassemble machinery to remove any damaged or defective components, so that they can be replaced or repaired. Once the machinery has been reassembled, the mechanical maintenance engineer performs post-maintenance functional tests and checks to verify that the maintenance action was successful.
Corrective maintenance calls for strong analytical and problem-solving skills and the ability to act swiftly and efficiently to allow normal functionality to be restored as quickly as possible.
Mechanical maintenance engineers are also responsible for documenting maintenance operations (e.g. keeping a log of maintenance activities, gathering data and preparing reports on repairs carried out, frequent breakdowns and routine checks) and report to a supervisor - typically the maintenance manager or production manager.
They may also be in charge of the spare parts warehouse, where their task is to ensure the availability of the materials needed for maintenance operations.
Let's see where a mechanical maintenance engineer works:
Mechanical maintenance engineers are typically employed by businesses specializing in the maintenance of machinery and equipment and by mechanical repair workshops. They may also find work in large plants and factories that have their own in-house maintenance team providing planned and unplanned maintenance for production and processing systems and equipment. Mechanical maintenance engineers can find work in a wide range of industries, including aerospace, automotive, steel, construction, oil and gas, electronics and consumer goods, as well as with companies operating in the power generation and distribution sector.
Mechanical maintenance engineers perform maintenance work on a wide variety of machinery and equipment, including machine tools, conveyors and other mechanical handling systems, packing machines, pneumatic and hydraulic machinery and systems, manufacturing plants, extrusion and moulding machinery for plastics, bending presses etc.
Industrial processes and machinery are constantly evolving and becoming increasingly automated, with the use of computer numerically controlled (CNC) and robotic systems being particularly widespread. This has led to a corresponding increase in the skill set required by maintenance engineers, who now need electrical engineering and mechatronics know-how, in addition to mechanical and electrical expertise. The tools used by mechanical maintenance engineers are changing too, with sophisticated electronic instruments increasingly being employed alongside handheld tools - especially for fault analysis and diagnosis.
The job of a mechanical maintenance engineer may involve standing for long periods of time and working in uncomfortable positions and small, narrow spaces and therefore calls for good physical strength and stamina. It may also involve working under high temperature conditions, in close proximity to noisy machinery and moving mechanical parts, as well as potential exposure to fumes, dust and hazardous chemical substances. It is therefore essential that mechanical maintenance engineers comply with all applicable workplace safety regulations and wear suitable personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves, masks, helmets, overalls).
The working hours of a mechanical maintenance engineer may follow a 2 or 3 shift pattern. Personnel carrying out maintenance tasks in continuous production plants are typically required to rotate in shifts to provide round the clock, 365 days a year maintenance cover (i.e. including nights and public holidays). Finally, for maintenance engineers working for companies that provide services to external clients, visits to client premises are an essential part of the job.
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Mechanical Maintenance Engineer Responsibilities and Tasks
The duties of a mechanical maintenance engineer include:
- Carrying out maintenance on mechanical systems and equipment
- Performing periodic inspections on plant, machinery and automated systems
- Scheduling planned and preventive maintenance work
- Ensuring that machinery and equipment are kept in good working order
- Ensuring that machinery and equipment meets safety regulations
- Intervening immediately in the event of breakdowns, failures or malfunctions
- Repairing and/or replacing broken or defective components
- Checking repaired components and machinery to ensure normal functionality has been restored
- Documenting maintenance activities
How to Become a Mechanical Maintenance Engineer - Training and Requirements
Mechanical maintenance engineers typically require a diploma in mechanics, electromechanics or mechatronics, with essential knowledge including mechanics, electrotechnics, electronics, mechatronics, hydraulics, systems engineering and industrial automation. Also important is a strong knowledge of mechanical components, the various types of plants and systems and their applicable safety regulations, as well as procedures and techniques for assembly, disassembly and repair.
In addition to theoretical training, aspiring mechanical maintenance engineers also need practical experience of reading mechanical drawings, datasheets, operating manuals, manufacturers’ instructions and technical specifications, as well as of performing maintenance operations without supervision. This can be achieved through an on the job training program, such as an apprenticeship.
Extensive experience in a mechanical or metalworking environment provides another possible route into a career as a mechanical maintenance engineer. For example, an experienced CNC machinist or machine tool operator may become a specialist CNC maintenance technician.
Mechanical Maintenance Engineer Skills and Qualifications
Mechanical maintenance engineers are required to have the following skills:
- Knowledge of how mechanical systems and equipment work
- Ability to read and interpret mechanical drawings and electrical schemes
- Manual skills necessary to carry out maintenance operations
- Ability to use maintenance software and electronic management systems
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Communication skills
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team
- Ability to intervene promptly and efficiently, where required
- Reliability and flexibility
Mechanical Maintenance Engineer Career Path
The career path of a mechanical maintenance engineer may unfold in a number of different directions. Maintenance engineers working directly for an industrial concern, such as a manufacturing company, may be assigned to supervise a team of maintenance technicians (e.g. as a shift supervisor or team manager) and, eventually, advance to the position of maintenance manager (i.e. the person with overall responsibility for planning and monitoring maintenance operations).
Meanwhile, maintenance engineers employed by companies providing maintenance services to external clients, may wish to consider setting up their own independent mechanical maintenance business.
A further career development option is to specialize in the maintenance of a specific type of machinery or equipment (such as automated machinery, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, air conditioning and ventilation systems, conveyor belts and production lines) or, alternatively, to carry out scheduled and unscheduled maintenance work for specific industrial and manufacturing sectors (e.g. food, mechanical engineering, oil & gas etc).
Top Reasons to Work as a Mechanical Maintenance Engineer
By performing preventive, predictive and corrective maintenance, mechanical maintenance engineers play a vital role in ensuring the proper functioning of mechanical systems and equipment.
They also help companies make significant savings, by keeping machinery running safely and efficiently and by identifying and promptly rectifying the cause of any breakdowns (keeping costly outages and downtime to a minimum). As a result, they are both highly sought-after and well paid.
Employment prospects for mechanical maintenance engineers are good. With industrial equipment and systems becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is strong demand for qualified personnel capable of handling a broad scope of maintenance tasks, making the role a challenging but stimulating one.