Materials Engineers

Summary

materials engineers image
Materials engineers develop, process, and test materials used to create a range of products.
Quick Facts: Materials Engineers
2012 Median Pay $85,150 per year
$40.94 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 23,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2012-22 200

What Materials Engineers Do

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, plastics, composites, and other substances to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements.

Work Environment

Materials engineers generally work in offices where they have access to computers and design equipment. Others work in supervisory roles either in a factory or in research and development laboratories. Materials engineers typically work full time and may work overtime hours when necessary.

How to Become a Materials Engineer

Materials engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in materials science or engineering, or a related field. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, cooperative engineering programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable as well.

Pay

The median annual wage for materials engineers was $85,150 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of materials engineers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Materials engineers will be needed to design uses for new materials both in traditional industries, such as aerospace manufacturing, and in industries focused on new medical or scientific products.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of materials engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about materials engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Materials Engineers Do

Materials engineers
Materials engineers work with metals, ceramics, and plastics to create new materials.

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, plastics, composites, 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 materials, and develop new materials.

Duties

Materials engineers typically do the following:

  • Plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with others 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 solutions
  • 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. The following are 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 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, sensing, and related applications.

Work Environment

Materials engineers
Materials engineers may work in laboratories or industrial setting to observe the results of their research and development.

Materials engineers held about 23,200 jobs in 2012. They often work in offices where they have access to computers and design equipment. Others work in supervisory roles either in a factory or in research and development laboratories. Materials engineers may work in teams with scientists and engineers from other backgrounds.

The industries that employed the most materials engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing19%
Architectural, engineering, and related services10
Scientific research and development services7
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing6
Federal government, excluding postal service6

Work Schedules

Materials engineers generally work full time. However, these engineers occasionally have to work overtime.

How to Become a Materials Engineer

Materials engineers
Materials engineers plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with others as necessary.

Materials engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in materials science or engineering, or a related field. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, cooperative engineering programs, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable as well.

Education

Students interested in studying materials engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and in science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Entry-level jobs as a materials engineer require a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs include classroom and laboratory work focusing on engineering principles. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while earning college credits.

Some colleges and universities offer a 5-year program leading to both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some colleges and universities or to do research and development. Some 5- or 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study with practical work, allowing students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have graduated from an accredited program. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Materials engineers often work on projects related to other fields of engineering. They must be able to determine how materials will be used in a wide variety of conditions and how the materials must be structured to withstand the requirements of those conditions.

Math skills. Materials engineers use the principles of calculus and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Materials engineers must understand the relationship between the structure of materials and their properties and means of processing, and how these factors affect the product. They must also figure out why a product might have failed, design a solution, and then conduct tests to make sure the product does not fail again. This involves being able to identify root causes when many factors could be at fault.

Speaking skills. In supervising technicians, technologists, and other engineers, materials engineers must be able to state concepts and directions clearly. When speaking with managers at high-level meetings, these engineers must also be able to communicate engineering concepts to people who do not have an engineering background.

Writing skills. Materials engineers must write plans and reports clearly so that people without a materials engineering background can understand the concepts.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Though licensure is not required to enter the occupation, some states license materials engineers; requirements vary by state. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs), and licensure generally has the following requirements: 

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken after graduation from college. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own requirements.

Certification in the field of metallography, the science and art of dealing with the structure of metals and alloys, is available through ASM International and other materials organizations.

Additional training in fields directly related to metallurgy and materials’ properties, such as corrosion or failure analysis, is available through ASM International.

Advancement

Beginning materials engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects where they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, materials engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Many become engineering managers or move into other managerial positions or sales work. An engineering background is useful in sales because it enables sales engineers to discuss a product’s technical aspects and assist in product planning, installation, and use.

Pay

Materials Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2012

Engineers

$86,200

Materials engineers

$85,150

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for materials engineers was $85,150 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,900, and the top 10 percent earned more than $130,020.

In May 2012, the median annual wages in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service$109,810
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing97,160
Scientific research and development services86,250
Semiconductor and other electronic
component manufacturing
84,090
Architectural, engineering, and related services80,080

Most materials engineers work full time. However, these engineers occasionally have to work overtime.

Job Outlook

Materials Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Engineers

9%

Materials engineers

1%

 

Employment of materials engineers is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.

Materials engineers will be needed to design uses for new materials both in traditional industries, such as aerospace manufacturing, and in industries focused on new medical or scientific products.

Materials engineers are in demand in growing fields such as biomedical engineering. Their expertise is crucial in helping biomedical engineers develop new materials for medical implants. Research and development firms will continue to employ materials engineers as they explore new uses for materials technology in consumer products, industrial processes, and medicine.

However, most material engineers work in manufacturing industries which are expected to experience employment declines.

Job Prospects

Despite a projected slow growth rate for this occupation, job prospects should be favorable as materials engineers will be needed to fill positions as more experienced materials engineers are promoted or retire. Prospects should also be favorable for those who train in traditional fields of materials engineering, such as metallurgy.

Employment projections data for Materials Engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Materials engineers

17-2131 23,200 23,400 1 200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of materials engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Aerospace engineers

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Bachelor’s degree $103,720
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, coordinate, and direct activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor’s degree $124,870
Biomedical engineers

Biomedical Engineers

Biomedical engineers analyze and design solutions to problems in biology and medicine, with the goal of improving the quality and effectiveness of patient care.

Bachelor’s degree $86,960
Chemical engineers

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production.

Bachelor’s degree $94,350
Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and Materials Scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which substances react with each other. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.

Bachelor’s degree $73,060
Electrical and electronics engineers

Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment, such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).

Bachelor’s degree $89,630
Mechanical engineers

Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineering is one of the broadest engineering disciplines. Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines, and machines.

Bachelor’s degree $80,580
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Physicists and astronomers in applied fields may develop new military technologies or new sources of energy, or monitor space debris that could endanger satellites.

Doctoral or professional degree $106,360
Sales engineers

Sales Engineers

Sales engineers sell complex scientific and technological products or services to businesses. They must have extensive knowledge of the products’ parts and functions and must understand the scientific processes that make these products work.

Bachelor’s degree $91,830

Contacts for More Information

For information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as a professional engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about certification, visit

ASM International     

O*NET

Materials Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Materials Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/materials-engineers.htm (visited November 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014