10 of the greatest mechanical engineering innovations that have defined mechanics as we know it

10 of the greatest mechanical engineering innovations that have defined mechanics as we know it
August 20, 2019 Prime Engineering

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines that more or less covers anything that moves. The broadness of its scope is due to the fact that it encompasses the design and manufacturing of all components in a moving system. This means that from the smallest parts to the machine as a whole, it all falls under the same umbrella of “mechanical engineering”.

Prime Engineering has been repairing, designing, manufacturing and refurbishing a wide range of machinery since our inception. We wouldn’t be where we are without these 10 greatest mechanical innovations that have defined mechanics as we know it.

Gears and cogwheels

mechanical engineering

These are integral components of any rotating speed which needs the ability to change speed, torque or the direction of the power source. The gear and cog are two of the most fundamental mechanical innovations in history, and without them, we’d certainly be out of business. So, how does it work? A change in torque utilising gears and cogwheels creates a mechanical advantage thanks to ‘gear ratios’. A gear meshes with a linear toothed object called a rack, which produces rotation. Many items from bicycles to gearboxes utilise this innovative design trait today.

Wheel and axle

There are not many innovations which are as widely recognised as being as influential as the wheel and axle, think about the phrase “Don’t reinvent the wheel”. These are essential in the modern world. The wheel and axle is part of the ‘six simple machines’ group, which was defined in antiquity and expanded upon, during the Renaissance. The first depictions of the wheel appeared on a Bronocice pot from Poland. This pot is from around 4000 BC, but the earliest actual evidence of the wheel and axle comes from Slovenia and dates back to around 3360-3030 BC.


Springs are defined as elastic objects capable of storing mechanical energy. They tend to be made of steel and come in coiled form, and when stretched or compressed, they exert an opposing force proportional to the change in length. First seen around 15th Century in the form of the bow, they now appear of almost every motor vehicle.

Electrical motors

Electric motors are machines which convert AC or DC current into movement. These motors often work via the use of magnetic fields and winding currents, which create a force. The principle behind these motors is Ampere’s Force Law. First described by Ampere in 1820 and first demonstrated by Michael Faraday in 1821, it took another 7 years for the first practical motor to be created by a Hungarian physicist, Anyos Jedlik. In modern society, they’re found everywhere in many things from electric hand tools to vacuum cleaners to starter motors on cars.

Pulleys for lifting

A pulley is one or several wheels that are on an axle supporting the change of direction of a cable. This ingenious invention transfers power between the shaft and cable providing an amazing amount of mechanical advantage, often used to help lift heavy objects. Again, the pulley is one of the ‘six simple machines’ as originally identified by the great Heron of Alexandria. Pulleys are now an integral part of many systems today, included fan belts, engines, flag poles, elevators and water wells.


While steel has been known about since the beginning of the Iron Age, the quality of the iron produced has varied greatly over the millennia. The first furnaces date back to around 6th century BC in China and slowly began spreading to Europe in the Middle Ages. During the 17th century, iron became much better understood, and by the 19th century, iron production methods had greatly improved, as had the quality of the metal produced. The most important development in the production of high-quality steel would come in 1856 when Henry Bessemer found a way to use oxygen to reduce carbon content, making it much stronger than previously.


Screws are again one of the 6 simple machines, which are usually made of a cylindrical rod with a spiralling helical ridge on the outside. This ingenious innovation converts rotational motion into linear force. A short and sweet explanation for one of the most useful mechanical engineering innovations which have changed the modern world as we know it.


Mechanical engineering owes a lot of its advancement to this invention. The bearing allows objects to be in one constant motion or plane whilst simultaneously reducing friction. They come in many shapes and different sizes, but the theory remains the same for all. The most common bearings are those found in bicycle wheels or car wheels.

Reciprocating engine piston

It’s 1690 AD and French physicist Denis Papin is going to change history forever with his design. Originally designed as a steam engine piston, it was later built upon by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt during the 18th Century. This began the beginning of the industrial revolution. A piston is a cylindrical object, contained within another cylinder, that is made airtight by the use of sealing rings. In the modern combustion engine, the pistons transfer energy to the crankshaft.

Levers for leverage

mechanical engineering

The lever is another simple engine, which is made up of a beam which pivots of a fulcrum. Levers make lifting objects incredibly easy with a mechanical advantage, depending on where the fulcrum is located. There are generally 3 types of levers, class 1, 2 and 3. Class 1 is where the fulcrum is located in the centre of the beam (similar to a see-saw). Class 2 levers are where the load is located (just like a wheelbarrow) and class 3 is where the most effort is in the middle. Think tweezers or a human jaw.

Prime Engineering is your one-stop engineering shop, offering a catalogue of services including design and engineering, precision machining, fabrication and welding, motor shaft replacement or maintenance and pump repair. If you’ve got any mechanical engineering requests, we’ve got it covered – we’d love to hear from you. Contact us on 07 3217 0555 or via our online contact form.