Material engineering is the branch of engineering that is responsible for the development, design, and testing of materials used to create a wide range of products from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs to snow skis. Materials engineers work with ceramics, metals, composites, plastics, and many other elements to create new materials that meet specific chemical, mechanical, and electrical requirements. The expertise of material engineers lies in their understanding of the properties and behaviors of unique substances from raw materials to finished products.
Typical Job Duties Include:
- Planning and evaluating new projects
- Design and testing of processing procedures
- Preparing proposals and analyzing labor costs
- Monitoring how materials perform
- Evaluating how materials deteriorate and determining the causes of product failures
- Evaluating technical specs and economic factors relating to the design of new products
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, material engineers held around 23,200 jobs in 2012. They typically work in offices with access to design equipment and computers or in supervisory roles in factories and research laboratories. Material engineers often work very closely with scientists and engineers from other backgrounds. The industries that employed the most material engineers in 2012 were as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||19%|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||10%|
|Scientific research and development services||7%|
|Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing||6%|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||6%|
What it Takes to Become a Material Engineer
Most organizations require that material engineers have a bachelor’s degree in material science or engineering, or a related field. Employers also value practical experience, so cooperative engineering programs are considered very valuable as well. Entry-level jobs as a material engineer do require a bachelor’s degree. Some universities offer 5-year degree programs in material engineering that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion. This is a great degree plan for those wanting to quickly advance in the material engineering field.
Licensure for materials engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, but some states do license material engineers. These states also require continuing education for engineers to keep their license.
Here are a few of the most important traits needed to be successful in the field:
- Analytical skills
- Critical-thinking skills
- Math Skills
- Speaking and writing skills
Salary and Job Outlook
As of 2012, the median annual salary of material engineers in the United States was $85,150. This salary is just slightly lower than the median engineering salary as a whole because of the fact that some material engineering positions don’t require licensing. The salary breakdowns for the top 5 industries employing material engineers are:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$109,810|
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||$97,160|
|Scientific research and development services||$86,250|
|Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing||$84,090|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||$80,080|
The material engineering job field is expected to show little or no change between now and 2022. Material engineers will continue to be needed to design uses for new materials both in traditional industries and in industries focused on new medical products. However, many material engineers work in manufacturing industries that are expected to have employment declines.
Entry-level material engineers will be needed to fill positions as experienced materials engineers are promoted or reach retirement age. Those who train in traditional fields of materials engineering, such as metallurgy, will also be highly sought after prospects.
Considering a Career Change to Material Engineering?
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