Materials EngineersMaterials engineers work with the raw materials used in a wide variety of products. They develop, produce, and test these materials, which are used in the creation of such items as golf clubs, computer chips, snow skis, and aircraft wings. The goal of materials engineers is to make new materials which fulfill certain chemical, electrical, and mechanical criteria. To do this, they may use substances like plastics, ceramics, metals, semiconductors, or composites. Materials engineers also find new ways to use existing materials.
The duties of a materials engineer include:
- Assessing how certain materials perform in a range of conditions, and monitoring their rate of deterioration
- Solving any problems which may cause product failure
- Overseeing a diverse professional team, which may include technicians, technologists, or other scientists and engineers
- Developing and directing tests which evaluate the material processing procedures
- Determining the design goals for products or processes, as well as the economic and technical details of the process
- Performing managerial tasks, such as writing reports, preparing budgets, and analyzing expenses
- Planning new projects, and conferring with other professionals when needed
Many materials engineers specialize in certain kinds of materials. Examples of these engineers include:
Ceramic engineers work with ceramic materials, and develop the processes necessary for using ceramics in the manufacturing of various products (such as the glass for flat-screen LCD televisions).
Composites engineers design and develop specially engineered materials for use in automobiles, aircraft, and similar products.
Metallurgical engineers work with metals (like aluminum or steel), and design alloys with certain other elements added to produce specific characteristics.
Plastics engineers develop and evaluate polymers (new kinds of plastic) for use in new products and processes.
Semiconductor processing engineers design and produce microelectronic materials to be used in new computers and computer-related processes.
Materials engineers hold over 22,000 jobs. They do much of their work with the assistance of computer-aided design (CAD) software, and they spend the majority of their work time in offices. Engineers who are directing or supervising projects may work in research and development laboratories, or in factories.
The following table shows the industries which employ the most materials engineers:
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing – 17%
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – 10%
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing – 8%
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – 7%
- Federal government – 7%
The vast majority of materials engineers hold a bachelor's degree in materials engineering or science, or a related focus. Engineers with practical work experience are more desirable to employers. Undergraduate students would therefore benefit from a cooperative engineering program, which provides a structured job experience for college credit.
High school students who want to become a materials engineer should study science (like physics, biology, and chemistry) and mathematics (like algebra, trigonometry, and calculus).
In the field of materials engineering, entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree. Students of these undergraduate programs study engineering principles in classrooms as well as laboratories, typically for 4 years. Cooperative programs, which provide students with valuable practical experience while they're still completing their degree, are available from many colleges and universities.
Five-year programs are available from some universities and colleges. Students who complete these programs earn not only a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree as well. Many cooperative programs, which combine classroom learning and on-the-job training, are also available. These programs take up to 6 years to complete, and provide the student with valuable industry experience while helping to pay for their schooling.
Engineering programs should be evaluated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Students who have graduated from an ABET-accredited program are more attractive to employers. Also, graduating from an ABET-accredited program is a prerequisite for professional licensure.
Each state's requirements vary, but many states license materials engineers. Once an engineer has become licensed, he or she becomes a professional engineer (PE). In order to become licensed, an engineer must:
- Graduate from an ABET-accredited program
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Gain a certain amount of practical work experience
- Pass the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
Many states require engineers to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their license. State licenses are recognized by any state in which the requirements for licensure have been met or exceeded.
The Materials Information Society (ASM International) offers certification in metallography. This certification course is intended to supplement undergraduate programs in materials engineering or science.
ASM International also offers graduate-level training in areas relevant to metallurgy and materials' properties, such as corrosion analysis.
The median salary of a materials engineer is more than $83,000 a year. The median salary is the salary at which 50% of the workers earned more and 50% earned less. The lowest 10% of engineers earn less than $52,000 a year, and the highest 10% earn more than $126,000 a year.
The following table shows the industries which employ the most materials engineers, as well as the median salary of engineers in those industries:
- Federal government – $110,590
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing – $91,920
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – $87,660
- Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing – $86,380
- Architectural, engineering, and related services – $75,470
It's estimated that job prospects for materials engineers will grow by 9% in the next decade. This growth is slower than usual, when compared with the average occupation.
The services of materials engineers will be in steady demand both in traditional industries (like aerospace engineering) as well as in new industries (like those developing the latest scientific or medical products).
Burgeoning new fields, such as biomedical engineering and nanotechnology, will also drive demand for materials engineers. These engineers put these existing technologies to new use, and help to solve problems with industrial processes, consumer products, and medical needs. Companies who wish to stay on the leading edge of technological advances will need to use new materials and processes developed by materials engineers.
Another field which will likely yield opportunities for materials engineers is weatherization. Thermal sprays, which use various materials (like plastics, metal alloys, or ceramics) to coat and insulate surfaces, are a technology developed by materials engineers which is increasing in popularity. Many companies and institutions are investing in these thermal sprays in an attempt to reduce energy costs.
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