Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and snow skis. They work with metals, ceramics, semiconductors, plastics, composites, and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They also develop new ways to use materials.
Materials engineers typically do the following:
- Monitor how materials perform and evaluate how they deteriorate
- Determine causes of product failure and develop solutions
- Supervise the work of technologists, technicians, and other engineers and scientists
- Design and direct the testing of processing procedures
- Evaluate technical specifications and economic factors relating to the design objectives of processes or products
- Prepare proposals and budgets, analyze labor costs, write reports, and do other managerial tasks
- Plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with others as necessary
Materials engineers create and study materials at an atomic level. They use computers to replicate the characteristics of materials and their components. They solve problems in a number of engineering fields, such as mechanical, chemical, electrical, civil, nuclear, and aerospace engineering.
Materials engineers may specialize in understanding specific types of materials. The following are types of materials engineers:
Ceramic engineers develop ceramic materials and the processes for making them into useful products, from high-temperature rocket nozzles to glass for LCD flat-panel displays.
Composites engineers work in developing materials with special, engineered properties for applications in aircraft, automobiles, and related products.
Metallurgical engineers specialize in metals, such as steel and aluminum, usually in alloyed form with additions of other elements to provide specific properties.
Plastics engineers work in developing and testing new plastics, known as polymers, for new applications.
Semiconductor processing engineers apply materials science and engineering principles to develop new microelectronic materials for computing and related applications.
Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines.
Mechanical engineers typically do the following:
- Analyze problems to see how a mechanical device might help solve the problem
- Design or redesign mechanical devices, creating blueprints so the device can be built
- Develop a prototype of the device and test the prototype
- Analyze the test results and change the design as needed
- Oversee the manufacturing process for the device
Mechanical engineers use many types of tools, engines, and machines. Examples include the following:
- Power-producing machines such as electric generators, internal combustion engines, and steam and gas turbines
- Power-using machines, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning
- Industrial production equipment, including robots used in manufacturing
- Other machines inside buildings, such as elevators and escalators
- Machine tools and tools for other engineers
- Material-handling systems, such as conveyor systems and automated transfer stations
Like other engineers, mechanical engineers use computers extensively. Computers help mechanical engineers to do the following:
- Produce and analyze designs
- Simulate and test how a machine is likely to work
- Generate specifications for parts
- Monitor the quality of products
- Control manufacturing and production