Materials Engineering

Materials Engineering is an interdisciplinary field applying the properties of matter to various areas of science and engineering. It is also also known as Materials science. This relatively new scientific field investigates the relationship between the structure of materials at atomic or molecular scales and their macroscopic properties. It incorporates elements of applied physics and chemistry. With significant media attention focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology in recent years, materials science is becoming more widely known as a specific and unique field of science and engineering. It is an important part of forensic engineering {Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property.} and failure analysis, the latter being the key to understanding, for example, the cause of various aviation accidents.

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Inside Materials Engineering

Materials engineers work with science and technology, investigating the properties and characteristics of various materials in order to test their suitability for practical applications in industry. Materials engineers study specific substances at the atomic level using computers to replicate characteristics of those substances. Understanding material composition at the most basic level and the synthesis of new materials are of primary importance to material engineers, who select, design, develop, manufacture, test and evaluate materials that meet the specifications of various projects and products. Materials engineering experts often find career opportunities with the government, as well as in the computer, electronics, transportation, metal fabrication and machinery manufacturing industries. Materials engineers are involved in the development, processing, and testing of the 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, plastics, semiconductors, and composites to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They also are involved in selecting materials for new applications.

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Education Information

Aspiring materials engineers may choose from a variety of educational options to prepare them for successful careers in the field. Undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs are available in materials engineering. These programs concentrate on the relationship between the structure and properties of materials, as explained through chemistry, physics and mathematics. In addition to computer application labs, topics of study at the undergraduate level can include chemical and physical processing of material, as well as composites design, nanotechnology, nanomaterials, the effects of radiation and engineering materials design.

Graduate students may study processing and synthesis, structure and properties, metal corrosion, nanoscale science and nanophotonics, among other topics. Material engineering students can specialize as early as their undergraduate years in areas such as soft materials, biomaterials or material science. Graduate students may specialize further, whether on a specific material or in a type of research. Graduation from a master’s program can lead to earning a Ph.D. The Department of Materials Engineering, Indian Institute of Science offers research programs leading to PhD and MSc(Engg) degrees, and a masters level course program leading to an ME degree. In addition, along with the Materials Research Centre, it runs the Materials Stream in the Institute’s undergraduate program.

Online courses and programs are available for those who want the flexibility of earning a degree from home and want to upgrade their skills and knowledge in materials engineering or engineering in general.

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Work Profile

Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products, from computer chips and aircraft wings to golf clubs and biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They also help select materials for specific products, develop new ways to use existing materials, and develop new materials. They work with many different materials, including:

  • ceramics;
  • chemicals;
  • composites;
  • glass;
  • industrial minerals;
  • metals;
  • plastics;
  • polymers;
  • rubber;
  • textiles.

Working in a diverse range of industries, materials engineers combine or modify materials in different ways to improve the performance, durability and cost-effectiveness of processes and products.

Skills

A material Engineer should have following skills:-

  • Good communication skills for presenting technical data both in writing and orally to colleagues from your discipline and other professionals
  • Ability to work as part of a team and to take individual responsibility and make decisions
  • Commercial awareness
  • Interest in scientific and technical issues and, for some positions, a real interest in a specific type of product
  • Ability to apply scientific reasoning to industrial situations
  • Strong analytical skills and problem-solving ability
  • Excellent knowledge of maths and science and IT skills
  • Ability to prioritise and plan effectively

Responsibilities

Materials engineers are responsible for the research, specification, design and development of materials to advance technologies and products of many kinds. Exact tasks vary according to the industry, the specific material you work with and the size of the organisation you work for, but there are a number of activities common to most posts. These include:

  • selecting the best combination of materials for specific purposes;
  • testing materials to assess how resistant they are to heat, corrosion or chemical attack;
  • analysing data using computer modelling software;
  • assessing materials for specific qualities (such as electrical conductivity, durability, renewability);
  • developing prototypes;
  • considering the implications for waste and other environmental pollution issues of any product or process;
  • advising on the adaptability of a plant to new processes and materials;
  • working to solve problems arising during the manufacturing process or with the finished product, such as those caused by daily wear and tear or a change of environment;
  • supervising quality control throughout the construction and production process;
  • monitoring plant conditions and material reactions during use;
  • helping to ensure that products comply with national and international legal and quality standards;
  • advising on inspection, maintenance and repair procedures;
  • liaising with colleagues in manufacturing, technical and scientific support, purchasing and marketing;
  • supervising the work of materials engineering technicians and other staff;
  • considering the costs implications of materials used and alternatives, in terms of both time and money;
  • taking account of energy usage in manufacturing and in-service energy saving, e.g. in transport and construction applications.

At senior level, the work is likely to involve more innovative research or greater management responsibility. The latter will call for a range of additional skills that are not necessarily part of the routine work of a materials engineer.

Duties of Materials Engineers

Materials engineers typically do the following:

  • Plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with other engineers and managers as necessary
  • Prepare proposals and budgets, analyze labor costs, write reports, and perform other managerial tasks
  • Supervise the work of technologists, technicians, and other engineers and scientists
  • Design and direct the testing of processing procedures
  • Monitor how materials perform and evaluate how they deteriorate
  • Determine causes of product failure and develop ways of overcoming such failure
  • Evaluate technical specifications and economic factors relating to the design objectives of processes or products

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. Materials engineers may specialize in understanding specific types of materials. Some of the examples of 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 develop 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 develop and test new plastics, known as polymers, for new applications.

Semiconductor processing engineers apply materials science and engineering principles to develop new microelectronic materials for computing, sensing, and related applications.

Career Options

Career prospects are generally good within this branch of engineering. Due to there being so many different specialist areas and such rapid technological change in the field, there is a consistent demand for materials engineers. Employers range from global corporations to small specialist research laboratories, which work with a variety of materials including:

  • carbon fibre;
  • ceramics;
  • electronics equipment;
  • glass;
  • metal;
  • plastics;
  • rubber.

Some of the main employers of materials engineers are based within:

  • the power industry – for example, oil and gas companies;
  • telecommunications – developing glass fibre optics to enhance technologies such as broadband;
  • sports equipment – designing and developing materials such as carbon fibre and plastics to produce tougher, lighter equipment or performance textiles;
  • biomedical engineering – developing materials for components such as heart pace makers or materials for replacement joints, such as knees and hips.

Materials engineers may work as researchers in the public or private sectors. On-the-job training is offered by most companies and is likely to be more structured with larger employers.

 To know about other Engineering options please visit the following link – Engineering – A Career.

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