A typical Materials Engineer will have a background in a variety of subjects including Electrical, Chemical, and Mechanical Engineering, as well as Physics and Mathematics. Work can include product design, materials testing, new product testing, and quality control, as well as independent review of materials, new products, and manufacturing processes. Careers in this field can lead to management of a manufacturing facility or specialized work in a field such as matallurgy.
Materials Engineers and Scientists can work for a variety of different companies and therefore have a large range of starting salaries. Starting salaries typically range between $35,000 and $45,000 for jobs with private manufacturing companies, which is where the majority of students with degrees in Materials Engineering start their careers. These jobs usually come with health, dental, and vision insurance, as well as a company match to a 401(k). Within four years of working for a private sector company, however, the median salary of mechanical engineers goes up to $60,000 a year.*
There are also a variety of positions available to test products in laboratories for various government and non-profit organizations. Starting salaries are around $40,000, but positions usually have better health insurance, job security, and typically come with pensions as opposed to 401(k)s, as reported by people in the industry. After five years of working for the government or a non-profit organization, materials engineers reported a mean salary of $50,000.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Engineers who are not interested in management can become highly trained in a specific field of materials. For example, materials engineers who specialize in metallurgy can typically command about a 15% salary premium for their positions. Becoming this specialized, however, may limit the availability of jobs to be found.
Job Description and Outlook
While working on development projects, Materials Engineers can be responsible for evaluating technical specifications in order to make recommendations of particular manufacturing processes and equipment. They may also review product designs and make recommendations for material selection. Engineers are also expected to meet with producers of metals, ceramics, polymers and composites and communicate with them about the investigation and evaluation of materials in regards to specific product applications.
Engineers who work in a product or quality testing capacity are responsible for reviewing product failure rates and interpreting laboratory analyses to establish or rule out material or process causes. They must also work with other Engineers in the design phases in order to supervise the manufacturing processes which will assure the quality of a particular product. Many companies also expect Materials Engineers working in these kind of departments to conduct training sessions on new material products, which can include applications or manufacturing methods for company clients and their employees.
For people who are already in the manufacturing industry, a degree in Materials Engineering or Science is an excellent way to improve one’s job prospects and/or set oneself apart among his or her peers when competing for promotions. Although the United States’ economy is believed to be veering away from manufacturing basic goods, demand for high-tech manufacturing has showed a steady increase over the past decade. Jobs in this field, which includes the manufacture of computers and other high-end electronics, require a background knowledge of the materials used both in the product and during the manufacturing process.
The increase in the production of highly processed goods, including everything from food to shampoo, has also led to a movement to know more about the safety of these products. Jobs with government agencies and other non-profit organizations dealing materials testing are expected to increase dramatically over the next several years.
Training and Education Requirements
Materials Engineers typically must have a Bachelors of Science in Materials Engineering, Materials Testing, or Industrial Engineering (with a focus on Materials) in order to qualify for entry-level positions. In some cases, an Associate’s Degree in Materials Testing along with several years of industry experience will allow an applicant to qualify for some entry-level jobs. In order to be promoted into management, most companies look for candidates who have at least ten years of experience or five years of experience and a Master’s Degree in Materials Engineering or Engineering Management.
In most states, licensure is not required to work as a Materials Engineer. Depending on the type of work that the engineer is involved in, however, it may be necessary to obtain specific certification allowing the individual to work with various hazardous chemicals. Other jobs may require an extensive background check or even a security clearance if the position involves working with large amounts of controlled materials.
There are a variety of professional organizations for engineers of certain underrepresented groups in engineering. The Society of Women Engineers (www.swe.org) and the Society of Black Engineers (www.sbe.org) are two great organizations. The National Society of Professional Engineers (www.nspe.org) is a good resource for anyone looking to make connections in order to further their career.
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