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A materials engineer is an expert on materials used in manufacturing and production. Depending on the industry, the areas of expertise may vary. In most cases, however, the engineer is required to be knowledgeable about materials from their rawest forms to their most complex combinations in product design. His job requires interaction with other engineers, including those in electrical, mechanical and chemical fields. Nuclear and aerospace engineers also work with materials engineers to develop products specifically designed to endure and perform in unique environments.
Also called a materials technologist or materials scientist, the position requires constant exploration into new ways to combine materials to achieve desired goals. Some technologies concentrate on making production more cost-effective, while others strive to improve product durability or performance. Common materials used to achieve these results include rubber, polymers and plastics. Some materials engineers combine industrial minerals, chemicals and composites to create new compounds, while others concentrate efforts in the fields of glass and metal mixtures.
Materials engineers can be involved in many aspects of production or specialize in a particular area of interest. Development processes are often complicated and can take many directions, depending on how materials interact; as a result, a materials engineer is regularly called upon to provide input, such as helping select materials or testing the finished product.
Besides materials testing and analysis, a materials engineer is regularly required to apply his expertise in the areas of materials tolerance, conductivity, strength and pollution probabilities. This may involve inspecting plant equipment for compliance, monitoring changes in the quality of production and ensuring materials alterations do not compromise adherence to government or industry standards. Interaction with other engineers and plant operations personnel is required to accurately assess situations and develop solid and practical solutions.
If a new process or procedure fails, the materials engineer is required to research the problem and determine where the malfunction occurred. This is a complicated process, as he must analyze every aspect of the production—what materials were used, how they interacted, what processes were implemented and what testing procedures were utilized. Once the area of failure is determined, the engineer must decide if it is more logical to correct that component or start over with a different set of materials and processes.
An experienced senior materials engineer can often become a consultant later in his career, advising on manufacturing plant designs and methods. Others may apply their knowledge to academia and teach college or university courses. Other popular choices for materials engineers desiring less-traditional employment include selling industrial materials or writing books and articles on materials engineering processes and advancements.