Materials Engineer

    If you are wondering how to become a materials engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of engineering, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Materials engineers are found in a diverse range of industries, investigating material properties to help support advances in technology. Their work can have many applications, for example developing carbon fibre reinforced plastics to make stronger, lighter sports equipment to the development of special polymers, ceramics and alloys for use in medical implants that reduce the risk of rejection by the body.

    Your work would normally cover a particular area, for instance metals, coatings or chemicals.

    Typical responsibilities:

    researching the properties of materials or new ways to combine them
    testing materials under different conditions
    analysing test data using computer modelling
    developing prototypes for new products
    helping to design product manufacturing processes that use new materials
    investigating the reasons behind component or structural failures
    supervising a team of technicians
    writing reports for project managers and clients.
    Your job will often involve the use of non-destructive testing techniques, for example, looking at tolerance to heat or corrosion, electrical conductivity or resistance, and durability and strength of materials.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good materials engineers include:

    strong problem-solving skills and a creative approach for new ideas
    excellent knowledge of material qualities under different conditions
    excellent maths, science and IT skills
    strong communication and presentation skills
    an understanding of manufacturing processes
    the ability to prioritise and plan effectively
    the ability to work to a budget
    a commitment to keep up-to-date with new developments
    the ability to work as part of a team and take responsibility for decisions.

    How to become a materials engineer
    You would normally get into this kind of work after taking a foundation degree, BTEC HNC/HND or degree in a subject like materials engineering, materials science, materials technology, applied chemistry or applied physics.

    You could also take a degree course, specialising in one group of materials or their commercial application, for example metallurgy, polymer science, aerospace engineering, structural engineering, biomaterials, biomedical engineering, or sports and materials science.

    If you do not have a higher education qualification, you may be able to start as a technician and work your up to engineer level by completing one of the qualifications listed above. See the job profile for Materials Technician for more details.

    The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM 3) has information about careers in this field, together with details of colleges around the country offering relevant qualifications.

    For more general information about engineering careers, see the websites below for SEMTA, Women into Science, Engineering and Construction, and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The Engineering Training Council (Northern Ireland) has careers information and a course database for local colleges.

    Training and Development
    If you have a relevant first degree or postgraduate qualification, you may be eligible for a graduate training scheme with a company.

    Once you are working as a materials engineer, it is very important that you continue to update your knowledge and skills. The IOM 3 offers a range training certificates by distance learning for engineers working within the industry. See their site below.

    Gaining incorporated or chartered status
    Professional engineering bodies recommend that you gain incorporated or chartered status to enhance your career prospects. You can achieve this by registering with a professional body and applying to the Engineering Council to start the process.

    Chartered engineers normally work at a strategic level, planning, researching and developing new designs and innovations, and streamlining management procedures. They are often project leaders with responsibility for teams of incorporated engineers and technicians. Incorporated engineers specialise in the day-to-day management of engineering operations.

    To qualify as an incorporated or chartered materials engineer, you will need:

    an accredited university qualification
    a period of Initial Professional Development, including practical training to gain experience
    to pass a professional review
    membership of an appropriate professional body.
    As part of the process, you will be assessed against UK-SPEC (UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence), developed by professional bodies, employers and the Engineering Council.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries are between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
    Incorporated engineers earn between £26,500 and £38,000.
    Senior chartered engineers can earn over £40,000.

    Job Prospects
    You can find work as a materials engineer in many industries including construction, engineering, electronics, aerospace, and vehicle, consumer and sports goods manufacturing.

    Your opportunities for career progression normally depend upon the size of your employer. You could move into project management, specialise in a particular aspect of materials development and testing, or work in research and consultancy.

    Useful engineering resources:
    Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3)
    1 Carlton House Terrace
    SW1Y 5DB
    Tel: 020 7451 7300

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