A materials engineer determines the best materials to use for everyday things like cars, flat panel displays and computers and for highly-scientific stuff like airplanes and rocket ships. Virtually everything that we use in our lives comes from materials and it is your job to ensure that these meet electrical, mechanical and chemical standards.
In this profession, you have the option to work on a particular type of material. If you want to work with materials that can be applied to airplanes, cars and other vehicles then you can work with composites and be called a composites engineer. If you have a fascination for coming up with and evaluating new kinds of polymers for various purposes then you can work as a plastics engineer. You may also opt to use your knowledge and talents for more practical purposes and come up with ways to form ceramic materials into useful products, you can become a ceramic engineer.
Metallurgical engineering is also another specialization to go into if you want to produce certain properties by combining metal with other materials. If you want a materials engineering specialization that would enable you to form new microelectronic materials for use in the computer industry and related fields, you can work as a semiconductor processing engineer.
Apart from the testing and design of various processes, a very important part of your job is finding out why a product did not work the way it was designed to and coming up with solutions for it. This entails doing a lot of tests, monitoring and evaluations so that the real cause of the problem can be identified and the appropriate fixes carried out.
If you’re holding a supervisory position, you will have people working under you so you need to have excellent leadership and interpersonal skills. You also need to be highly-analytical since you must figure out how to make materials that can withstand the various conditions where they will be used in. Since you’ll be figuring out why a product failed, you also need to be very keen and patient in solving problems.
One reason to become a materials engineer is the satisfaction one can derive from creating and developing materials. It’s a career that satiates the inventive curiosity that some naturally possess. Another reason to pursue this career path is that it constantly puts one in the know about cutting edge technological advancements that could impact people’s way of life.
A practical reason to choose this occupation is the fact that it pays very well, with the highest paid earning six figure salaries. Working with smart and like-minded people also lures others to become materials engineers.
Materials Engineer Work Environment
Materials engineers typically work fulltime in offices equipped with computer access and design equipment. They are also found in factories and research laboratories. They can also be part of a team of technicians, scientists and other engineers who specialize in other fields. Some overtime work may be required.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in 2012, around 19 percent of materials engineers worked in aerospace product and parts manufacturing industries while 10 percent were employed with architectural, engineering and related services industries. Seven percent were in the scientific research development services industries while six percent worked in the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing industries. Another six percent, meanwhile, were employed by the federal government.
Materials Engineer Salary
The May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wages report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that materials engineers received a mean annual wage of $89,930. This is higher than the $85,930 paid to mechanical engineers and the $85,640 received by civil engineers.
In 2012, the agency reported that the median annual wage for materials engineers was $85,150 and that the top ten percent received over $130,020 while the lowest 10 percent got less than $52,900. According to this report, materials engineers who worked with the federal government were paid the highest at $109,810. Those working in aerospace product and parts manufacturing got $97,160 while those connected with the scientific research and development services industry got $86,250. Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing received $84,090 while architectural, engineering and related services got $80,080.
Materials Engineer Career Outlook
The job outlook of materials engineers is expected to be slow in the ten-year period covering 2012 to 2022. The employment rate for this time span is projected to only grow one percent. From the 23,200 materials engineers hired in 2012, their number is only expected to rise to 23,400 in 2022.
Materials engineers will be in demand in the field of biomedical engineering especially when it comes to coming up with new materials for medical implants. They will also continue to be hired by research and development companies. Their expertise will continue to be needed in the making of consumer products and medicines as well as in reviewing industrial processes. The downside is that many materials engineers will be employed by companies operating in the manufacturing industries whose growths are expected to slow in the coming years. Still, there will be demand for materials engineers as they will need to replace those who are set to retire or get promoted.
Materials Engineer Degree
Aspiring materials engineers must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering to have a shot at entry-level jobs. In many programs, students are also allowed to have practical experience in the profession while studying in the classroom. Those who go on to obtain a postgraduate degree enhance their qualifications because they would be able to teach in colleges or conduct research.
It’s important to obtain education from a program accredited by ABET as this is a requirement towards obtaining a professional engineering license. While requirements to get a license are different from state-to-state, the other requirements for licensure typically include a passing score in the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, relevant work experience and a passing score on the Professional Engineering exam. For engineers to keep their license, they have to comply with continuing education requirements imposed by their state.