Materials Engineer Career Facts

A materials engineer works with the materials used to create industrial products. They're the people who select the materials for production. They also analyze and develop new materials.

The Work Environment

Materials engineers work in industrial labs and testing facilities. Depending on the type of material, they may also work in special sealed labs designed for hazardous materials. Their work is based on advanced manufacturing, physical science and production techniques.

This work is based on a range of industrial materials and related compounds:

  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Ceramics
  • Glass
  • Semiconductors 

In many cases, materials undergo several procedures in the process of preparation for use. These materials are assessed at the design, processing and production stages, as both quality controls for production stages and assessment of products. Different materials are also commonly used in the design of most products, requiring materials engineers to assess the suitability of each material for production purposes.The materials engineer must evaluate the materials for their strength, reliability and meeting the requirements of any relevant laws related to the product.

For example:

A new plastic toy design requires a materials engineer to select a particular type of plastic. The product is intended for the 2 to 4 year old children's market. Some plastics are too soft, others are too brittle. Both types may be considered dangerous under consumer product safety laws and the manufacturer's production policies. The engineer rejects both, and finds a non-fracturing type of plastic.

Materials engineers also work at the top of the technological range. They can assess materials structures at the atomic level, and examine the results of tests at that level of definition. This is a particularly important part of advanced testing. Materials used in the construction and aerospace industries are required to be able to withstand severe stresses. Testing in these areas is intensive. Thousands of tests may be conducted on a material to ensure that its structural properties are verified.

Each material type has characteristics which require thorough testing before use in production. In testing metals, alloys of the same metals may have quite different properties. One form of steel may be stronger than another. In ceramics, temperature tolerance is an important factor. Some plastics have extremely strong polymer structures, and can be used for housing. Others, like plasticine, don't form structures like that. Glass products require stress testing. Semiconductors have widely variable ranges of conductivity.

Wages: $50,000 to $120,000 based on qualifications and experience. Some consultancy work is available for higher level materials engineers.

Hours: Usually standard business hours, unless otherwise required by the nature of the work.

The Career Environment

Materials engineers usually specialize in one of the basic material types. This is a steadily expanding area in global employment, providing many career opportunities and job mobility. Materials engineers can expand their range of options through additional qualifications and specialization in particular areas of their material type.

New technology is creating a lot of new materials, which is driving the demand for engineers in the basic materials, academic training and advanced research areas of the profession. Highly qualified, experienced materials engineers may work as consultants for major industrial and scientific organizations.