Industrial mechanics programs prepare people to repair and maintain heavy equipment. Students learn to inspect and maintain engines and motors, systems and circuits, and tools. They study pneumatics and hydraulics, and learn to weld and braze parts.
America's construction and manufacturing industries depend on machines. Often these are large and powerful machines. For example, some of the dump trucks used in construction and mining are so big they can't be allowed on highways. One model is over 24 feet high, 27 feet wide, and 50 feet long. In automobile plants, huge machines stamp out fenders and door panels. Of course, many machines used in these settings are much smaller. But what they all share is the need for regular maintenance and occasional repair.
It may still be possible for you to learn through informal on-the-job training how to service these machines, but employers prefer that you have some formal education or training. When you look for a program, you almost certainly will not find one that covers all sorts of industrial machine maintenance and repair. Instead, you will find that programs tend to divide into two kinds. Some teach you how to service diesel-powered heavy equipment, such as the kinds used in construction and mining. Others teach you how to maintain industrial machines that are used in a manufacturing setting.
You can learn heavy equipment technology in a vocational school, proprietary school, or community college. Programs take from six months to two years. About 100 colleges offer such a program. If it takes two years and includes some liberal arts courses, you may earn an associate degree. This can be important if you plan to go into management later. The quality of programs at proprietary schools varies greatly. You may find it helpful to look for schools that are approved by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology. You may also get training in the armed forces.
Be careful not to enroll in a program that focuses mainly on servicing ordinary trucks and diesel cars. Look for a focus on heavy equipment. Even in such programs, the subject matter overlaps greatly with diesel technology programs. You learn how to service diesel motors. You study the electronic controls that are growing in importance even as they grow in complexity. You learn how to read output from the diagnostic equipment. You compare the output to performance standards and make adjustments or replace parts as needed.
College programs in industrial machine maintenance are harder to find. Fewer than 100 colleges offer them. They tend to lead to a certificate rather than a degree. You are more likely to get training in this subject through an apprenticeship, which usually takes four years and combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training from experienced workers.
What you learn depends in part on what goes on in the factories where you are trained. But you can expect to study both mechanical and electrical principles and work with machines that combine both kinds of energy. You learn how to read manufacturers' blueprints when you set up machines. You may have to level a machine, align the parts, and adjust the belts and bearings with great precision. You learn some carpentry and perhaps sheet metal work, since industrial machines are often partly enclosed. You learn what powers the machine and also what controls it. Controls that use digital chips are becoming commonplace in factories, so you learn how to service these as well.