Materials engineers are found in a diverse range of industries, working on the research and development of new materials to advance technologies; innovating and modifying materials to improve the performance and efficiency of existing products; and investigating the failure of products or structures. They work with all types of materials including plastics, metals, alloys, glass, ceramics and composites.
Some of the industries they work in are listed below with examples of their role in product development:
Power – the development of gas distribution networks using light reinforced thermoplastic pipe (RTP) has meant cheaper installation and transportation costs and because RTP is chemically inert, it does not suffer problems from corrosion underground.
Telecommunications – advances in glass fibre optic materials has enabled the huge expansion of broadband PC internet connections to take place, as well as the growth in broadband-enabled services to mobile phones.
Sport – in recent years, the development of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) has revolutionised the design of a whole range of sporting equipment from tennis rackets to cycle frames and skiing equipment to vehicle bodies in motor racing.
Medicine – materials engineers/scientists working with biomedical engineers have made great strides in the evolution of new components used in replacement prostheses such as hip and knee joints, and implants such as heart valves. Using combinations of polymers, ceramics and metallic alloys, materials have been developed to mimic the action of the body's natural anatomy whilst at the same time being made biocompatible to avoid rejection.
Materials engineers also work in many other areas including aerospace, transport and construction. In all cases, engineers work with other professionals and technicians during the development cycle. Initially, tests are carried out to determine which combinations of materials are best suited to meet the project specification. Various aspects to the design are considered, depending on the project brief:
Fully qualified professional engineers usually hold incorporated or chartered status.
Chartered engineers are normally involved at a strategic planning level, researching and developing new designs, innovations and more efficient processes. They are often project leaders and are responsible for teams of incorporated engineers and technicians.
Incorporated engineers specialise in managing the day-to-day process of applying current engineering solutions in the most cost-effective manner. They often hold key operational management roles.
Materials engineers work 35 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. They may work extra hours to meet deadlines.
Depending on their work, they could be based in an office, laboratory or manufacturing environment. Travel may also be involved.
To be a materials engineer, you should:
Materials engineers work in many industries including construction, construction engineering, building services, electronics, shipbuilding, aerospace, power generation, railways, vehicle, consumer and sports goods manufacture.
Opportunities for career progression normally depend upon the size of the employer. Typical progression routes include movement into project and strategic management roles, specialisation in a particular aspect of materials development and testing, research and consultancy work.
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