Every where we go, we are surrounded by mechanical systems. The way we get to school, the AC we feel when its 100°F outside, the resistance machine we use at the gym, are all examples of mechanical systems that mechanical engineers are responsible for. There are many systems already in place, but many that need to be upgraded or even invented, so when dealing with designs, materials, budgets, deadlines, things can get overwhelming for an engineer, and mistakes can be easily be made. Sometimes they are small inconveniences, like a car door handle with too much plastic on its mounting points, or catastrophic mistakes that cost not only millions of dollars, but more importantly, multiple lives, like the 1986 space shuttle Challenger. As a mechanical engineer, or any engineering discipline, it is the ethical responsibility of not only the company, but each individual employee to ensure that the company maintains safe, and environmentally responsible products, as well as a respectful work environment.
In 1986, NASA's Challenger space shuttle launched in an attempt to go into space. 73 seconds after liftoff, the shuttle exploded and the lives of every single one of the astronauts aboard were lost. The main issue was pure negligence, in an effort to avoid another delay. "Thiokol engineers were very concerned that the abnormally cold temperatures would affect the "O" rings to nonperformance standards. The mission had already been canceled due to weather, and, as far as NASA was concerned, another cancellation due to weather was unthinkable ( pg. 23)." http://dssresources.com/cases/spaceshuttlechallenger/index.html. This brings up an issue any engineer faces, and that is the sacrifices required to meet certain criteria for the project. But, as stated before, the ethical responsibility of any engineer is safety first. As a collaborative group effort, the engineers that were directly involved (most likely the aerospace department) should have shown resistance to launch first. If NASA still insisted on launching with compromised O-rings, then the other departments, including the ME department, should have resisted until the problem was fixed. Unfortunately, the launch continued, and those astronauts lost their lives.
Safety isn't the only ethical challenge an engineer faces. Working in an ever evolving field, competitors will always be eager to buy information that can help put them ahead of their competitors. Another ethical responsibility of engineers is preserving trade secrets, and sensitive information about a project they might be working on. According to CNBC, an engineer was sentenced to five years in prison, for selling satellite information to whom he thought was a Russian spy. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/18/california-engineer-gets-5-years-for-trying-to-sell-secrets-to-russia.html. The importance of this is to show loyalty, and as more loyalty is proven, opportunity for bigger roles in more meaningful projects is presented. But not only is it important for personal gain, but to maintain healthy competition in the market. Imagine leaking out a trade secret that is so devastating to a company, that it goes out of business, or a company approaches you with an deal that is "hard to resist." Imagin
In short, engineers have to deal with many ethical issues, and although challenges may occur, it is their responsibility to make sure that they are met in a responsible manner, because not only is their company relying on it, but so are so many other people who might not even be aware of it.