Materials Engineer Careers

How to become Materials Engineer

What does a Materials Engineer do?

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:

  • tolerance to heat or corrosion
  • electrical conductivity or resistance
  • durability, strength and weight
  • the manufacturing process – would the product require a new process or can existing production methods be adapted
  • how would the new product be maintained
  • time and cost.

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.

What's the working environment like working as a Materials Engineer?

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.

What does it take to become a Materials Engineer?

To be a materials engineer, you should:

  • have strong analytical skills and an innovative approach to problem solving
  • have excellent knowledge of material qualities under different environments
  • have excellent maths, science and IT skills
  • have strong communication and presentation skills
  • have excellent technical knowledge
  • understand manufacturing processes
  • be able to prioritise and plan effectively
  • be able to work within budgetary constraints
  • keep up-to-date with new developments
  • be able to work as part of a team and take responsibility for decisions.

Materials Engineer Career Opportunities

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.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Materials Engineer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3)
1 Carlton House Terrace
Tel: 020 7451 7300

SEMTA (Science Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance)
14 Upton Road
WD18 0JT
Tel: 0808 100 3682

Women into Science and Engineering
22 Old Queen Street
Tel: 020 7227 8421

Engineering Training Council (Northern Ireland)
20-24 York Street
BT15 1AQ
Tel: 028 9032 9878

Engineering Council
10 Maltravers Street
Tel: 020 7240 7891

The Institution of Engineering and Technology
Savoy Place
Tel: 020 7240 1871

The UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC)

Facts and Stats:

  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel was only 5ft tall and wore a top hat to make himself look taller
  • Engineering generates more than 40 per cent of the UK¿s national wealth
  • The Box Hill tunnel, part of Brunel¿s Great Western Railway, took five years to dig and at two miles long was the longest tunnel in the world at the time

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