Have you ever wondered how Stretch Armstrong toys can be stretched so incredibly far without breaking? Have you ever wondered how they make bouncy balls so freaking bouncy? Have you ever wondered how they make the windows on aeroplanes so hard and durable? Well, look no further! Materials engineers are the clever people you have to thank for all of these wonderful things.
Materials engineers use their expert knowledge of different substances—their chemical structure, their flaws, their strengths, their uses, their malleability—and then apply this to the creation of new materials or the adaptation of existing products.
As an engineer in this field, you can work with all kinds of materials – from plastics, polymers and chemicals to ceramics, textiles and rubber. Your ultimate goal, however, will be to adapt, mix and manipulate materials to help create products that are safe, robust, useful, economical and functional.
These guys’ work revolves around a continual cycle of research, planning, design, development and testing. When you are first given a project brief, you will be required to research different materials, assessing and evaluating their suitability for what needs to be achieved.
Once you have selected the ideal combination of materials, you will conduct some initial tests to analyse and assess how the substances react to different factors, such as heat, stress and corrosion. Having analysed the test data using state-of-the-art computer software, you will make any necessary changes before designing and developing a prototype.
Further testing will then be conducted on the prototype, where you’ll also be required to consider other factors such as environmental impact and health and safety regulations. You will then make any final tweaks and adjustments before everything is finalised and production can start.
Your job as a materials engineer doesn’t stop there! Once production has kicked off, you will work alongside manufacturing engineers and production managers to troubleshoot any problems during the production process. Therefore, your duties will extend to managing quality control and making sure everything complies with rigorous legal, safety and quality standards.
Salary & benefits
As an entry-level materials engineer, you will most likely earn between £20,000 and £26,500 per annum. However, as you gain more experience and are given more responsibility, your annual salary may increase to between £28,000 and £42,000.
As a senior materials engineer, you could earn up to £65,000 and beyond.
Working nine-to-five is the way you’ll make your living! However, you may occasionally be required to work late shifts from time to time. The majority of your work will be done in a laboratory or an office, although you may occasionally be required to travel to different factories or plants to oversee production.
For entry into this line of work, you will need an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as materials engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, physics, metallurgy, polymer science, biotechnology or mechanical engineering.
You can also become a materials engineer by doing an HND (higher national diploma) in a relevant subject. However, this may limit your career progression and you may start off in a lower-level technician role.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of a senior materials engineer. However, your employer may also guide you through the professional training required to attain incorporated or chartered engineer status.
Once you are an accredited engineer, you may choose to keep up with industry developments and new technology by attending external training courses, which are offered by organisations such as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.
Once you have gained experience in a hands-on technical role, you may be given the opportunity to take on managerial responsibilities. Alternatively, you may choose to become an expert in a particular area of materials engineering and remain fully immersed in research and development.
Freelance work is an option which plenty of materials engineers eventually explore, working on projects for a range of different clients. Other materials engineers opt to move into education, teaching the next generation of materials engineers at universities and further education colleges.