On the Job
Materials engineers find ways to make and use materials that are useful.
Have you ever owned a plastic spatula that seemed to be magically shrinking? Over time, you noticed that it got. . . smaller. How can this be? The problem is that the plastic was probably not heat-safe. This means that as you stirred that simmering marinara sauce, the plastic melted a bit. This also means that you've been eating bits of plastic along with bits of basil and garlic. However, thanks to materials engineers, heat-safe spoons, ladles, spatulas, and whisks are available. Made of a special composite plastic, these utensils can withstand temperatures over 600 degrees. This is good both for your cooking and your health.Materials engineers work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors, and combinations of materials to create new materials. They also test existing materials to find new ways to use them. They may also design processing plants and related equipment.
Some materials engineers help develop or refine products. Products may be anything from computer chips to snow skis. Materials engineers meet with the engineers who designed the products they are working on. They find out special requirements of the products, such as strength or flexibility. This information helps them determine which materials to use. Once they have enough information, engineers plan and carry out laboratory tests to find out which materials meet product standards. They may also create new materials to meet product needs. For example, they may try to make a plastic that can withstand high temperatures, but still keep its shape. In the laboratory, engineers manipulate the structure of the molecules in substances to get new substances. They review and interpret the results from their tests. They try to find the cause of failures and use that information to modify their tests.
In addition to developing materials that meet product needs, engineers must consider other factors. Cost and the ability to produce materials quickly and easily are common factors. Engineers must avoid developing materials that meet product needs, but are too expensive to produce. Thus, engineers may find several materials that will meet product needs so that manufacturers have a choice. However, engineers may recommend one material over the others.
Materials engineers use computers in their work. They use them to collect and analyze data, create graphs, and write reports. They may perform managerial duties, such as preparing proposals and supervising technical staff.
Materials engineers who work with metals are called metallurgical engineers. Those who work with nonmetallic materials, such as glass, clay, and fiberglass, are called ceramic engineers.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Work with metals, ceramics, plastics, semiconductors, and composites to create new materials.
- Analyze test results and other data to determine why products fail and problems occur.
- Consult with other engineers to learn about product requirements.
- Plan and carry out laboratory tests.
- Review material performance. Monitor how materials deteriorate.
- Manipulate the atomic and molecular structure of substances.
- Evaluate technical and economic factors related to producing materials.
- Review plans for new products and recommend appropriate materials.
- Design processing plants and equipment.
- Supervise and guide technical staff who are developing new uses for materials.
- May monitor and prepare labor costs, proposals, and project budgets.
- Use computers to write reports and analyze information.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Use computers.
- Analyze data or information.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Process information.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Think creatively.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Evaluate information against standards.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Document and record information.
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
- Teach others.
- Provide advice and consultation to others.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a moderate level of social contact. They talk to other engineers, but also spend time alone in the lab.
- Communicate on a daily basis by telephone, letters, memos, e-mail, and in person.
- Often work as part of a team of engineers.
- Are moderately responsible for the health and safety of others.
- Are somewhat responsible for the work done by those they supervise.
- Usually work indoors.
- Regularly wear protective or safety gear, such as eye goggles and gloves.
- May be exposed to sound and noise levels that are loud or distracting.
- Are occasionally exposed to contaminants.
- Must fully complete and be very exact in their work. Errors could cause false results and produce materials that do not meet product needs.
- May repeat the same activities.
- Make most of their decisions and set nearly all their daily tasks and goals without speaking to a supervisor first.
- Work in a somewhat competitive atmosphere in which monthly deadlines must be met.
- Generally work a regular, 40-hour week.
- May work longer hours to meet deadlines.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Sit for long periods of time.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Use fingers to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.