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How to Become a Mechanical Drafter

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya

Published:

Does the world of design and production captivate you? Do you enjoy meticulous technical tasks? If that’s the case, pursuing a career as a mechanical drafter could be an ideal match for you.

This all-inclusive career guide will give you crucial insights about pursuing a career in mechanical drafting. Starting with the educational background you’ll need to lay the foundation for this role, the skillset you’ll need to hone, and even some sage advice to thrive once you secure a position in the field; this guide leaves no stone unturned.

Career Summary

Mechanical Drafter Salary

Mechanical Drafter Salary

The earnings of a mechanical drafter can significantly fluctuate, mainly influenced by their experience level.

Based on data from Glassdoor, here’s a summary of the typical mechanical drafter’s salary:

  • Entry Salary (US$52k)
  • Median Salary (US$63k)
  • Executive Salary (US$77k)

The median salary for a mechanical drafter aligns closely with the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $61,900 in 2022.

What is Mechanical Drafting?

Mechanical drafting, a fundamental aspect of manufacturing and construction, involves using computer-aided design (CAD) software by a mechanical drafter to produce intricate technical drawings and blueprints. These blueprints play a pivotal role in fabricating mechanical devices and systems, as they encompass all the necessary information for a product’s manufacturing and assembly, including its dimensions, the materials to be used, and the recommended fastening methods.

Mechanical drafters, also known as mechanical designers, collaborate closely with mechanical engineers, converting preliminary designs and specifications into accurate, detailed plans ready for production.

Mechanical Drafter Career Progression

Let’s take a closer look at the typical career progression for a Mechanical Drafter:

  • Entry-Level Drafter: As an entry-level drafter, you work under supervision, and your drawings will often need to be checked and approved by a senior drafter.
  • Mid-Level Drafter: After you’ve racked up a few years of experience and developed a good understanding of drafting principles and tools, you can work independently and take on more complex projects.
  • Senior Drafter: At this stage, you’ll generally be trusted to handle the most complex drafting assignments due to the wealth of experience you must have amassed. You may have to review and approve the work of junior and mid-level drafters and coordinate work with engineers, manufacturers, and others involved in the design process.
  • Lead Drafter/Drafting Supervisor: In this role, you will manage a team of drafters. You’ll coordinate assignments, manage workflows, review work, and ensure that drafting projects are completed on time and meet quality standards.
Mechanical Drafter Career Progression

Pros:

  • Room for creative expression of design ideas.
  • Excellent career for technical skills development.
  • Collaboration with other professionals.
  • Opportunity to be a part of ground-breaking innovations.
  • High demand across several industries.

Cons:

  • Working under high pressure and tight deadlines.
  • Minimal room for mistakes.
  • Your work may get very little recognition.
  • Work can become monotonous.
  • Long sitting hours.

Useful Skills to Have as a Mechanical Drafter

The role of a mechanical designer requires a unique blend of creative, technical, and interpersonal skills.

Here are some of the most valuable skills to have as a mechanical drafter:

  • Solid understanding of drafting principles.
  • Knowledge of mechanical systems and components.
  • Strong mathematical abilities.
  • Ability to read and interpret technical drawings.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Project management skills.

Popular Mechanical Drafter Specialties

  • Architectural Drafting
  • Aeronautical Drafting
  • Electrical Drafting
  • Civil Drafting
  • Marine Drafting
  • Manufacturing Drafting

How to become a Mechanical Drafter

Mechanical Drafter 5 Steps to Career

Embarking on a journey toward becoming a mechanical drafter entails an intricate dance between formal education and hands-on experience. This dual focus is crucial, as the profession demands a comprehensive understanding of theoretical concepts and the practical skills to bring these concepts to life.

Education

You’re probably already asking yourself how much education you need to achieve your dream of becoming a mechanical designer. Let’s delve into it and answer some of the burning questions regarding the impact of education on becoming a mechanical designer.

Do I need a degree to become a mechanical drafter?

A degree is not always a requirement to become a mechanical designer, but having one, especially in a relevant field, can significantly increase your chances of finding employment and progressing in your career.

Many mechanical drafters have at least an associate degree in drafting or a related field, such as mechanical engineering or a related discipline.

These programs often cover computer-aided design (CAD), drafting techniques, engineering, manufacturing, and construction principles. Some employers may prefer or require a bachelor’s degree, especially for more advanced positions.

However, skills and experience can sometimes be as essential, if not more so, than formal education. Suppose you can demonstrate proficiency in relevant software and technologies (like CAD), an understanding of mechanical design principles, and a strong portfolio of work. In that case, you may be able to secure a position even without a degree.

Why should I get a degree in Drafting and Design?

Earning a drafting degree can offer several advantages:

  • Fundamental Knowledge: Drafting is a field that requires a deep understanding of various drafting techniques, CAD software, design principles, and industry-specific knowledge. A degree program will give you a solid foundation in these areas, ensuring you know how to excel in your career.
  • Networking: Pursuing a degree in drafting can provide a great platform to connect with and build net future colleagues, mentors, or employers. This network can help you find internships, job placements, and future career advancement.
  • Personal Growth: Pursuing a degree in drafting allows you to delve deeper into your interests and passion for design and engineering. It can be a fulfilling journey of personal growth and self-discovery.

How long does it take to get a degree in Drafting and Design?

The duration of a degree in Drafting and Design can vary depending on the type of program and the level of education you choose. Here are some common options and their typical durations:

An associate degree in Drafting and Design is a two-year program offered by community colleges or technical schools. It provides a foundational understanding of drafting principles, CAD software, and industry-specific knowledge.

A bachelor’s degree in Drafting and Design typically takes four years of full-time study in the United States. This can vary somewhat depending on the specific program and institution and the student’s circumstances.

Some universities offer a master’s degree in Drafting and Design or a related field. This is a postgraduate program that usually takes two years to complete. A master’s degree focuses on advanced topics, research, and specialization within the drafting and design domain.

There are also shorter-term certificate or diploma programs in Drafting and Design. These programs vary in length, typically ranging from a few months to a year. They are suitable for individuals seeking to acquire specific drafting skills or update their knowledge in a particular area.

It’s also important to note that part-time study options are available at many institutions, which allow students to earn their degrees over a more extended period while managing other commitments, such as work or family. However, completing the degree will take longer than the typical four years.

How much does it cost to study Drafting and Design Technology at university?

The cost of studying Drafting and Design Technology at a university can vary significantly based on several factors, including the type of institution and program. However, the average tuition is $24,868 for undergraduate programs and $33,857 for graduate programs.

Also, many universities offer financial aid through grants, scholarships, and loans, which can significantly reduce the cost of tuition. Some students may also qualify for work-study programs, which allow them to earn money to help cover their expenses while in school.

Can I become a Mechanical Drafter through online education?

Yes, you can undoubtedly become a mechanical drafter through online education. Many accredited institutions are offering online programs in drafting, mechanical engineering, or related fields. These programs often cover the fundamentals of mechanical drafting, including computer-aided design (CAD) software, engineering principles, and technical drawing standards.

Online programs can be particularly beneficial if you balance your education with other commitments, such as work or family responsibilities. They offer flexibility in when and where you complete your coursework.

In an online program, you can expect to learn:

  • The use of CAD software to create 2D and 3D technical drawings.
  • Basic and advanced drafting principles.
  • Understanding of mechanical components and systems.
  • Materials science and selection for design.
  • The interpretation of technical drawings and specifications.

One thing to note is that while the theoretical components of drafting can be easily taught online, certain practical elements might be less hands-on than in a traditional classroom. Some online programs do, however, provide software tools and simulate practical projects to offer this hands-on experience.

When choosing an online program, ensure it’s accredited to ensure employers and other educational institutions will recognize your degree. Also, consider whether the program offers assistance with arranging internships or job placements, as practical experience can be precious in this field.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Mechanical Drafter?

Several online resources are available for learning the skills needed to become a mechanical drafter. These resources often include tutorials, guides, and course materials on essential topics like CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software, drafting principles, and mechanical engineering basics. Here are a few you might consider:

  • AutoDesk University: AutoDesk University provides free tutorials and training resources for AutoCAD, one of the most widely used CAD software in the mechanical drafting industry. The platform allows learners to improve their CAD skills with free access to learning guides, videos, and tutorials led by industry professionals.
  • CAD Tutor: CAD Tutor is a free online resource for CAD users. It provides tutorials and articles that help learners understand and use different CAD tools efficiently. They offer many tutorials and forums that are extremely useful for drafting professionals.
  • CADalyst: CADalyst is a valuable online resource for professionals in the mechanical drafting field. It provides various resources, including tips, articles, and tutorials on different CAD software, helping drafters stay updated on the latest technology trends and improve their CAD skills.
  • Draftsperson.net: Draftsperson.net is a community-driven platform that provides drafting-related articles, tutorials, sample drawings, and CAD blocks. It’s a great resource for sharing knowledge and learning from others in the drafting community.
  • CAD Notes: CAD Notes offers tutorials, tips, and tricks for various CAD software, including AutoCAD and MicroStation. The website provides multiple resources that mechanical drafters find helpful in improving their CAD skills.
  • CAD Intentions: This YouTube channel offers free tutorials and tips for mechanical drafting and CAD software.

Practical Experience

Gaining practical experience is fundamental to becoming a competent mechanical designer. Theoretical knowledge sets the foundation, but it is through hands-on experience that this knowledge truly comes to life.

What are internship opportunities for a Mechanical Drafter?

Internship opportunities for a mechanical drafter can vary widely depending on your location, the time of year, and the specific industries in your area.

However, here are some general types of companies and industries where you might find relevant internships:

  • Engineering Firms: These can range from small, specialized firms to large, multinational corporations. Depending on the firm, you might be drafting parts for various automotive, aerospace, or energy industries.
  • Manufacturing Companies: Any company that designs and manufactures its products may have opportunities for drafting interns. This could include companies in the automotive industry, consumer products, industrial equipment, and more.
  • Architecture and Construction Firms: While this might lean more towards architectural drafting, these companies often need drafters to create detailed plans and blueprints.
  • Government Agencies: Some government agencies, particularly those involved in public works, transportation, or defense, may also have opportunities for drafting interns.
  • Design Consultancies: These companies provide design services to other companies and often have a wide variety of projects that require drafting.

An internship as a mechanical drafter would typically involve using CAD software to create technical drawings based on the specifications provided by engineers or designers. You might also check drawings for accuracy, update existing drawings, or create 3D models of parts or systems.

What Skills will I learn as a Mechanical Drafter?

As a mechanical drafter, you’ll develop various technical and soft skills essential for your role.

Here are some critical skills you will learn:

  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Software Proficiency: This is one of the most essential skills for a drafter. You’ll become proficient in using CAD software such as AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or CATIA to create detailed, accurate technical drawings.
  • Technical Drawing and Design: You’ll learn to create and interpret technical drawings, including understanding drawing standards and conventions, such as line types, dimensions, and symbols. This also includes designing and detailing components and assemblies.
  • Understanding of Mechanical Engineering Concepts: Drafters often work closely with engineers, so a basic understanding of mechanical engineering concepts such as materials science, mechanics, fluid dynamics, and thermodynamics is essential.
  • Visualization and Spatial Skills: Drafters need to be able to visualize 2D representations as 3D objects and vice versa. This involves understanding how to create and interpret different views of a component or assembly.
  • Attention to Detail: Drafting requires high precision. A small error in a drawing could lead to significant problems in the final product, so drafters need to be meticulous and detail-oriented.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Drafters may need to find solutions to design problems or figure out how to clearly and accurately represent complex components and assemblies.
  • Communication Skills: Drafters often work as part of a team and must communicate effectively with engineers, and machinists. Clear communication is crucial to ensure the drawings are accurate and meet the project requirements.
  • Knowledge of Manufacturing Processes: Understanding how parts are made can influence the design and drafting. This includes familiarity with machining, welding, casting, and additive manufacturing (3D printing).
  • Time Management Skills: Drafters often have to work on multiple projects simultaneously and meet tight deadlines. Good time management skills are essential to prioritize tasks and meet these deadlines without compromising the quality of work.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Mechanical Drafter?

Work-life balance can vary significantly depending on the job and the company culture. However, for most mechanical drafters, the work-life balance can be considered generally good, especially compared to other roles in the engineering and tech sectors.

Here are some factors to consider to achieve just the right work-life balance:

  • Maintaining a distinction between professional and personal life in mechanical drafting is critical. A typical work week for drafters spans over 40 hours from Monday to Friday, aligning with regular business hours. This ensures availability for interaction and coordination with engineers, designers, and other team members.
  • It’s worth discussing with your employer the possibility of remote work or flexible hours, particularly given the advancements in CAD software and remote work technologies. Remote work could enhance work-life balance by reducing commute time and providing more flexible hours.
  • The nature of the drafting job, while detail-oriented with strict deadlines, can sometimes lead to stress. However, effective stress management techniques can manage stress levels that are often comparable to or lower than many other technical roles.

As with any job, individual experiences can vary widely. Some companies value work-life balance and create a supportive culture, while others may not. Researching a company’s culture and asking about work-life balance during the interview is always a good idea.

What’s the Career Outlook for Mechanical Drafters?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment of drafters is expected to decline by about 3% from 2021 to 2031.

The BLS noted that although construction and manufacturing projects continue to require drafters to refine technical drawings and plans, improvements in technology allow engineers and architects to perform many tasks that used to be done by drafters.

Mechanical Drafter Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Mechanical Drafter?

There are several job opportunities available for a mechanical drafter, including:

  • CAD Operator/Technician: These professionals are experts in computer-aided design (CAD) software and can find work in various industries. They may also be responsible for training others to use CAD software.
  • Design Engineer: With further education and experience, a mechanical drafter could become a design engineer, creating new product designs and modifying existing ones.
  • Project Manager: With your experience as a mechanical drafter, you could move into a project management role, overseeing projects from conception to completion, managing teams, and ensuring deadlines are met.
  • CAD Manager: In larger companies, a CAD manager supervises the use of all CAD technology, ensuring consistency, providing training, and managing all CAD-related work processes.
  • Freelancer/Consultant: As a mechanical drafter, you could work as a freelancer or consultant, offering your drafting skills to various clients on a project basis.
  • Instructor/Trainer: As a drafter with extensive experience and good communication skills, you could become an instructor or trainer, teaching CAD and drafting skills at a vocational school or within a company.

What Type of Companies Hire a Mechanical Drafter?

Mechanical drafters are often hired by various companies that work in fields where precise technical drawings are needed for the design, manufacturing, or assembly of mechanical devices or systems.

Here are some types of companies that hire mechanical drafters:

  • Manufacturing Companies: These can range from companies manufacturing small components to producing large machinery or vehicles. This could include automotive, aerospace, consumer goods, electronics, and industrial equipment companies.
  • Engineering Firms: Engineering firms that offer services across various sectors, including civil, structural, environmental, and mechanical engineering, often hire mechanical drafters to help turn engineering designs into detailed technical drawings.
  • Architectural and Construction Firms: While these firms often hire architectural drafters, they also sometimes need mechanical drafters to work on the mechanical aspects of buildings, such as HVAC systems or plumbing.
  • Design Consultancies: Design consultancies provide design services to other companies and often need mechanical drafters to create detailed drawings of their designs.
  • Government Agencies: Many government agencies, particularly those involved in infrastructure, transportation, or defense, employ mechanical drafters.
  • Energy Companies: Companies involved in the energy sector, including oil and gas companies, renewable energy firms, and utility companies, may also employ mechanical drafters to design equipment and systems.
  • Technology Companies: Companies that design and manufacture tech devices often need mechanical drafters to design the mechanical aspects of their products.
  • Shipbuilding Companies: Shipbuilding requires detailed technical drawings of various mechanical systems, so these companies often employ mechanical drafters.

Should I become a Mechanical Drafter?

Now comes the time when you have to decide if you want to go ahead and embrace the mechanical drafting profession. But first, you need to understand that becoming a mechanical drafter requires thinking hard and carefully considering the profession’s demands and rewards.

More than anything else, your decision to embark on this career path must align with your unique strengths, interests, and professional ambitions and not just be driven by external influences.

As you continue to consider a career in mechanical drafting, it’s crucial that you introspectively analyze your aptitudes and inclinations. Again, you must understand that the profession requires a strong grasp of mechanical principles, meticulous attention to detail, CAD software proficiency, and a keen ability to visualize and interpret complex information.

Do these skills resonate with you? Do the field’s challenges excite you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time for you to pursue your dream career as a mechanical designer.

One more thing. Don’t forget to reflect on your long-term goals and professional aspirations. Mechanical drafting offers various opportunities in various industries, such as manufacturing, engineering, aerospace, etc. You must visualize the trajectory aligning with your career objectives and ideal work-life balance.

Now the ball is in your court to decide if mechanical drafting is the right career for you. Reflect on your skills, passions, and ambitions, and choose a path that will lead you toward your desired future!

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Oluwadamilola Osisanya

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