Materials engineers are responsible for the research, specification, design and development of materials to advance technologies of many kinds. Their expertise lies in understanding the properties and behaviours of different materials from raw materials to finished products. The role is often designated ‘materials technologist’ or ‘materials scientist’ rather than materials engineer.
They often work with many different materials, including:
- Industrial minerals;
Working in a diverse range of industries, they aim to combine or modify materials in different ways to improve the performance, durability and cost effectiveness of processes and products.
Typical work activities
Work activities vary according to the specific material and industry you work with, and the size of the organisation you work for. There are, however, typical activities common to most posts. These include:
- Selecting the best combination of materials for specific purposes;
- Testing materials to assess how tolerant they are to heat, corrosion or chemical attack;
- Assessing materials for such qualities as electrical conductivity or durability;
- Evaluating industrial materials (e.g. silica, sands, dolomites, limestones, magnesite etc.) for glass or refractory manufacture;
- Considering the implications for waste and other environmental pollution of any product or process;
- Advising on the adaptability of a plant to new processes and materials;
- Working to solve problems which may arise either during the manufacturing process or with the finished product (e.g. problems caused by daily wear and tear, or change of environment);
- Supervising quality control throughout the construction and production process;
- Monitoring plant conditions and material reactions during use;
- Helping to ensure that products comply with national and international legal and quality standards;
- Advising on inspection, maintenance and repair procedures;
- Liaising with colleagues in manufacturing, technical and scientific support, purchasing, and marketing;
- Supervising the work of materials engineering technicians and other staff;
- Considering the cost implications of materials used and alternatives, in terms of both time and money;
- Taking account of energy usage in manufacturing and in-service energy saving, e.g. in transport and construction applications;
- Developing materials which are amenable to recycling.
At senior level, the work is likely to involve more innovative research or greater management responsibility. The latter will involve a range of additional skills that are not necessarily part of the routine work of a materials engineer.