A mechanical drafter creates detailed schematics that demonstrate how a particular machine should be assembled or how a mechanical system operates. He or she utilizes hand drawing skills as well as computer-aided drafting (CAD) software to produce easy-to-follow blueprints and instruction manuals. By working closely with engineers and machine operators, drafters are able to make vital safety and efficiency improvements to designs.
Most mechanical drafters are employed by large manufacturing plants and parent corporations that produce industrial equipment. They aid in the design of any number of large, complex systems, including airplane engines, assembly line stations, robotic equipment, and power generators. Some drafters work for consulting firms that specialize in providing blueprints for equipment manufactured by many different companies. In addition, experienced mechanical drafters often decide to offer freelance services to a number of clients. Self-employed professionals typically enjoy a great deal of freedom in what projects they take on and where they work.
Regardless of the specific job setting, a mechanical drafter needs to be very familiar with the types of machinery that he or she is asked to draw. A drafter who creates schematics for car engines, for example, must understand exactly how electrical and mechanical components interact in finalized engines in order to accurately break down the assembly process. He or she usually studies existing similar plans in detail before getting started on a new blueprint. The drafter may need to personally examine parts and take measurements to determine if designs will work in practice.
With a thorough understanding of the machinery, the mechanical drafter can sketch blueprints and input information into CAD programs. As technology improves, CAD software is becoming much more popular than hand drafts, as computerization allows for easier adjustments, automatic measurement calculations, and the ability to simulate real-world conditions. Using either medium, a drafter typically develops several drawings for each step in an assembly process, showing pieces in various degrees of detail and at different angles. Engineers and technical editors help the drafter finalize plans and submit them for publication.
The requirements to become a mechanical drafter vary, but most hopeful workers decide to pursue training in vocational school or university programs. A degree program in drafting and design provides classroom education and hands-on training with the tools and techniques needed to excel in the field. In addition, many schools offer career placement services to help recent graduates find entry-level jobs. With the appropriate training, an individual can put together a thorough resume and a portfolio that demonstrates his or her talents.
In general, it is difficult to break into the field of freelance or contract mechanical drafting immediately after graduation. Most professionals begin their careers in part- or full-time positions at corporations and consulting firms. With experience, success, and strong networking skills, a mechanical drafter can start searching for contract work.