Metallurgy is the study of metals (ferrous and non-ferrous), their structure, composition and properties. These guys also investigate alloys of various metals.
Understandably, these scientific experts aren’t just employed to mess around with metal for metal’s sake. Metallurgy has an important practical application in various industries. For instance, metallurgists play a vital role in extracting metals from ores and manufacturing a range of goods.
Metallurgists usually specialise in a specific area of metallurgy, each covering one of the three phases of the metallurgical lifecycle: chemical metallurgy, physical/structural metallurgy and process metallurgy.
Chemical metallurgists study the origins of a metal, the chemical composition of different ores and different methods for extraction. Physical/structural metallurgists are concerned with metal structures and properties, such as conductivity, reactions to variable changes in pressure, temperature and other controllable conditions.
Process metallurgists employ a combination of chemical and physical metallurgy principles in the adaptation, shaping and joining of metals and metal alloys for commercial and industrial purposes.
The primary objective of metallurgy is to produce metals and products from alloys, which are structurally strong, yet flexible. It is also vital for preventing corrosion, fatigue and breakdowns in metal products, which can be caused by exposure to adverse climates and inhospitable environments. Furthermore, metallurgists might be involved in the creation of new materials, e.g. a combination of metal, alloys, plastics and other substances.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be liaising with clients from the manufacturing industry, discussing their requirements and understanding what properties are needed for the materials that will be used in their production processes.
Following this consultation period, you will be conducting chemical, structural, safety and durability tests using state-of-the-art software and other hands-on techniques.
You will also be responsible for recording the results of your investigations, writing reports and presenting your conclusions to your customers.
In order to produce the best possible metal products, you may be tasked with developing innovative ways to refine, strengthen and improve certain metals and alloys.
Once you have developed materials that meet the client brief, you may be heavily involved in the actual production process, soldering, welding, forging and casting metals to produce all kinds of quality products, from a car’s chassis to the tiny components of a power drill.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for metallurgists in the early stages of their careers range between £17,000 and £24,000, while those with a wealth of experience can earn around £25,000 to £35,000 per annum.
Once you have reached a senior level and have obtained chartered engineering status, you could earn up to £50,000 a year.
Personnel employed in industrial and manufacturing plant facilities may be required to work on a shift basis, whereas people working in academic research environments are more likely to have a regular schedule, usually involving working 35 to 40 hours in a five-day week.
For candidates looking to find employment in the commercial sector, an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline, such as physics, chemistry, metallurgy, materials science, structural engineering or chemical engineering, is a basic requirement.
Candidates looking to develop a career on the academic research side of things will usually need to have a relevant postgraduate degree (MSC, MEng or PhD).
Gaining prior work experience through vacation placements or industrial internships is recommended for all positions.
Training & progression
Initial training and development provided by employers in the commercial sector usually includes formal training sessions, a structured series of rotations and gaining hands-on experience under the supervision of a senior metallurgist. You’ll get the opportunity to work across a range of different functions and may even receive support for the completion of professional qualifications.
Studying for relevant qualifications and obtaining membership with professional bodies, such as the Institute of Cast Metal Engineers (ICME), the Institute of Corrosion (ICorr) and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), will allow you to attain chartered status. This will boost your earning potential and your opportunities for career progression.
Training for academic and research professionals is mainly self-driven and usually completed before taking up a full-time position. Career progression is driven by professional qualifications and experience, performance and the development of specialist expertise.
As you progress, you may choose to work as freelance consultant and provide technical solutions to a range of clients.
Alternatively, you can opt to pursue the managerial route, taking a step back from hands-on technical work and focusing more on business development, team management and budget control. You could even become the production manager of a large manufacturing organisation.
If you choose to keep concentrating your efforts on technical work, you could even consider moving from a commercial position into academia, or vice versa.