Mechanical Engineering - Tanya


Hey everyone, my name’s Tanya and this year I’m studying Mechanical Engineering.

A bit about me:

  • I was born in South Africa but have lived in New Zealand for most of my life
  • When I’m not studying or working, I like to spend my time outdoors sailing, tramping, snowboarding and snorkelling
  • I also enjoy reading and photography

Why did I choose Mechanical Engineering? Last year I was struggling to decide on which specialisation I wanted to choose, but designing things such as racing yachts and rockets seemed really interesting. I want to design things which are moving and are in the real world - things I can touch, as well as learn about how things in the world around us work.

As far as I can see, mechanical is the main specialisation which has that design component, and also allows me to work on some really cool and interesting projects. It’s a pretty broad specialisation, and mechanical engineers design anything that moves, from aeroplanes to wind turbines to washing machines.

Through my posts this year I hope to give you a bit of an insight into what we do in Mechanical Engineering, the kind of interesting things that we study and some of the cool projects that we do!


Goodbye and Good Luck!

It's been a pretty crazy time over the last couple of weeks. Last week I handed in two posters, a video, an oral presentation and my bridge project, and the week before that I had a test and two big reports due. So not much sleep was had and it was a bit of a mad rush to get everything finished in time! That's something that I have particularly found this semester – it's harder to keep ahead of the work as there always seemed to be several things due each week. When there are other tests and assignments due it's easy to postpone something such as the bridge project which is due at the end of the semester – but that's a real mistake as we found when we tried to do most of it at the last minute! It has certainly been a busy semester, and a busy year overall, and I think it's pretty similar in all of the specialisations. Second year is definitely a large step up from first year. It's worth it, and what you learn is really interesting, but you need to be motivated and willing to put in the work.

What we've learned in Mechanical this year is pretty similar to what I expected – calculating the strength of beams under various types of stress, finding properties of fluid flows, gas volumes and exchanging heat, calculating the movement of various bodies under different forces, as well as learning about different components of machinery and manufacturing processes. It's been a really interesting and challenging specialisation, and definitely the area that I want to pursue further.

All the best for your exams, your specialisation choice and the rest of your degree. It's been fun writing about my various experiences this year, thanks for reading and I hope that I have helped in some way!



Becoming Engineers

Hopefully you’re managing to survive all of your courses, and are vaguely prepared for all of the upcoming tests and assignments. Life is pretty busy at the moment as I’m currently doing three group projects, but while it might sound impossible I have actually learnt to enjoy them. It can definitely be frustrating trying to organize other people, but I’ve been lucky and only had pretty good groups. Despite some downsides, working in groups is great for meeting new people, and learning how to work with people who think differently to you and may be from different specialisations. It can also be really useful to have different ideas and opinions, and often someone in the group will come up with an idea or see a problem which you had never thought of!

These are some of my favourite things about this year so far:

  • My favourite courses this year have been Mechanics of Materials and Thermofluids, mainly because I found the content the most interesting and most closely linked to what I want to specialise further in. But there were enjoyable things about each course including robot programming, labs and design projects

  • One thing which I have found this year is that our courses are much more linked together, so a calculation or equation which you learn about in one course may then be used as a fundamental part of another course. I’ve found it much more helpful in terms of seeing how the equations and theories can be used, and also remembering them!

  • Another thing that I have really enjoyed about this year is that I feel like we are learning the important fundamentals for Mechanical Engineering, and as the problems that we are able to solve become more and more realistic we are getting closer to actually becoming engineers.

  • A great thing about not being in first year is that the class sizes are smaller, and you become part of a department which cares about you much more. The department has put on several BBQs throughout the year with free food and we were also allocated a member of staff as a mentor if we were having trouble (although not to help us with coursework).

  • The labs for all of the courses have been pretty interesting, recently we have had Thermofluids labs where we calculated things about various flows such as the mass flow rate and heat transfer. A picture of one of the devices we used to estimate the heat transfer between hot and cold water for different temperatures and flow rates is shown below:
Heat Exchanger.jpeg
Heat transfer in a heat exchanger


Enjoy the last few busy weeks of your courses, and I’ll have a final post in the last week of semester!


Building Bridges

I hope that you’ve had a relaxing break and are now getting back into the swing of things. As always I found coming back after the break a bit of a shock, but I’m slowly getting back into the routine of lectures, projects and studying.

I'm going to give you a brief overview of the papers that I am taking this semester, and then talk a little bit about satellites and planes.

My courses this semester: 

MECHENG 236 – Design and Manufacture 2

Similar to the course which we had last semester (235), we have one big design project and learn about different parts of machines such as clutches, brakes and hydraulic systems as well as different manufacturing processes.

Our project is to design a movable bridge, and it is worth 45% of our mark! It’s a bit daunting at the moment as it is worth so much, and there are so many different things to take into account. But it is also exciting to get to do something more closely resembling what we may get to do when we graduate.  

MECHENG 222 – Dynamics

This course builds on the dynamics section in ENGGEN 121 from your first semester – currently we're learning about different co-ordinate systems, and using a lot of cross products.

We have to complete weekly questions online, and to help motivate us Hazim (the lecturer from first year) created eight ‘clans’ which we had to choose between. My clan is called Hambley.

MECHENG 211 – Thermofluids

This course will cover Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer.  We haven't gone into too much detail yet so I'll give a better description in my next post.

ENGGEN 204 – Managing Design and Communication

All of Part II take this courses. They’re teaching us how to write technical reports and introduce us to “Systems” Engineering – a term that I associate with the Leech being closed due to congregations of stressed Part III and IV students discussing rather complex projects.

Other things:

This is slightly off topic, but this semester is the start of the Auckland Programme for Space Systems. Basically we’re having a trial run this semester, with a competition to design a CubeSat (a 10cm3 satellite) to solve a problem of our choice. This process will be run again next year, followed by building the satellite, doing a whole lot of tests and sending it into space! I think that this is the kind of project which shows the exciting things which we can do as engineers, and it’s really great that we have been given this opportunity.

Post 2
My cardboard model of a CubeSat

Another observation which is slightly off topic is that it seems that most of our Mechanical lecturers are really into planes, and we’ve heard stories about plane failures or used plane systems as examples in almost all of our papers this year. It’s a cool feeling being taught about the mistakes of past engineers to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes in our future careers, and they even inspired me to watch a 5-hour documentary on the development of the Boeing 777!

It’s going to be a pretty interesting and busy semester, all the best with your courses and you’ll hear from me again near the end of next month!



Stresses and Deflections

As I am sure you have all been told several times already, Part II is a big step up from Part I. Even though I had already been told this last year, I still wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. While I am finding all of my courses really interesting, there is a lot of content which is covered really quickly, and there’s always something which I should be working on. Some days I find myself spending an hour calculating normal stresses and deflections in beams, and then the next minute I am trying to write code to control a robot, or brainstorm ideas for rolling a robot along a pipe.

I thought that I’d give you a bit of an idea about what we are doing in each of our courses this semester.

MECHENG 235 – Design & Manufacturing 1

We were given our first group project in the first week of the semester, the Weir-Warman project, where we had to design a robot device to carry a payload over a chasm. One of the great things about this project is that there aren’t too many design constraints, allowing a wide range of different creative solutions. Each group also has the option to carry on and build their device to compete in the competition based in Australia.

My team is currently in the early stages of planning our build, and it should be lots of fun as well as a great opportunity to put the design ideas which we are learning about in lectures into practise. We managed to get some carbon fibre, and have access to laser cutters and 3D printers to manufacture some of our components, because why not?

MECHENG 242 – Mechanics of Materials

For me this is one of the more interesting courses so far, although it does involve a lot of theory work. We recently had a lab where we were calculating stresses in beams by using a method called photoelasticity. When stress is applied to the sample, the light gets deflected in different directions depending on its wavelength, resulting in colourful representations of the stress distribution in the materials (see the photos below). We also get to calculate various stresses and strains in beams, and work out where they will fail.


Bending stresses in a polymer beam
Bending stresses in a polymer beam
Testing our project code on the VEX robot

MECHENG 201 – Electronics and Computing for Mechanical Engineers

Another practical element this year has been learning to program and control VEX robots. I really enjoyed ENGGEN 131 last year, and it was exciting to be able to use the programming which we had learnt for a more practical purpose, and easily see where our code had a logical error when the robot started racing off backwards without stopping! We are just finishing a project with these robots where we have to program them to follow a line using light sensors and try and get them to travel in a straight line (which is harder than it sounds).

That’s all for now, hope your exams go well and I’ll be back with another post near the beginning of next semester!