Online mechanical drafting and design associate's degree programs are available, and some individuals may have a certificate before enrolling. Common majors include mechanical drafting, mechanical engineering technology and architectural drafting. Drafters are typically required to have some postsecondary education, and an associate's degree is often the minimum required, except in the field of architectural drafting.
Associate's degree programs provide instruction in the manual drafting skills and computer-aided design applications used to prepare these drawings. Architectural drafters generally need a bachelor's degree. Online mechanical engineering technology bachelor's programs incorporate drafting, but only as part of the broader subject area. To complete any online program, students will need access to manual drafting tools and computer with multimedia capabilities.
Professional certification is not required for drafters, but those who complete an associate's degree program or other postsecondary training can earn Certified Draft Designer or Certified Digital Designer credentialing through the American Design Drafting Association.
Associate's Degree in Mechanical Drafting
Many prospective drafters earn a certificate in mechanical drafting or pursue an Associate in Applied Science in Drafting Design. A program leading to an Associate in Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology can also include significant drafting and design training. Certificate programs and vendor's training courses for specific computer-aided design and drafting software products are prevalent, but only a few online programs leading to associate's degrees in mechanical drafting are available.
Information and Requirements
Online associate's degree programs can take full-time students 1-2 years to complete 60-75 semester credits, including 15-20 credits in general education courses. Applicants should have good mechanical and spatial relations skills in addition to basic drawing ability. Artistic sensibilities can also be valuable for the composition of complex assemblies and 2-D renderings of 3-D objects.
Students need a computer with multimedia capabilities and high-speed Internet access to view lectures, complete assignments and communicate with instructors and peers. Specialized drafting computer applications may require either Windows or Mac hardware. Traditional drafting courses require a basic set of manual tools, included in the cost of some programs.
Most drafting courses are completely online. Schools may assist students in finding companies engaged in drafting near their homes for on-site internships. Some programs require students to attend some classes at the home campus or retain the services of proctors during exams. Sample courses include the following:
Basics of Mechanical Drawings
This course covers the basic concepts, symbols and techniques required to interpret and complete mechanical drawings. Students familiarize themselves with traditional drafting tools and practice inking skills. Assignments gradually become more complex, introducing new concepts throughout the semester, including scales, different types of projections, sections and exploded views.
Measurement and Dimensions
The clear and accurate representation of dimensions is vital to a drafter's work. Class topics include the accurate use of rulers, calipers and micrometers, different coordinate systems and common conventions for representing dimensions and tolerances on drawings.
Drawings of common mechanical parts and devices are reviewed, and students are assigned physical objects to measure and draw. Course material includes equations for analyzing joints, supports, loads and stress, which can be used to predict potential parts failures. Topics include materials science, welds, friction, lubrication, couplings and seals.
This course presents features found in popular computer-aided design ( CAD) software, also known as computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software, with emphasis on the tools and functions specific to mechanical design. The further use of computer-aided manufacturing and its relation to CADD is explored.
The manufacture of mechanical parts frequently involves tooling. Designers need an understanding of single- and multi-point tools, rotary tools and work-holding devices in order to create parts that can be readily manufactured or are suitable for automated fabrication.
Junior drafters work with engineers and designers, often documenting, archiving and making edits to existing drawings. Advancement leads to more complex assignments, interactions with clients, greater design responsibilities and more autonomy. Employers include manufacturers of all kinds, tool and die makers, fabricators and design firms.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that jobs for drafters would experience a 3% decline in employment from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The most opportunities are expected to be found in architectural, engineering and related services firms, according to the BLS. The median annual salary for mechanical drafters as of May 2015 was $53,520.
Continuing Education Information
The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) offers training and certification exams for several levels of drafters, from apprentice to certified design technician (www.adda.org). Certifications last for three years, during which time drafters may gain renewal credits with additional training and employment experience. Certification is generally voluntary.
An online associate's degree in mechanical drafting is helpful for individuals who would like to gain the necessary skills to launch their careers as engineers or drafters, among other options. Students learn the basics of measurement and tool design, and graduates can voluntarily earn certification.