Materials engineers apply their knowledge to research and develop new materials, and to improve the use of existing ones. In addition, they select the best materials for each use.
They research, test, and develop new products in a wide variety of industries, including metals, polymers, plastics, synthetic and natural fibers, ceramics, glass, and sand.
They participate in the design and development of engineering products and structures, including oil refineries, airplanes, nuclear power plants, civil engineering projects, sports equipment, and medical technology, such as the manufacture of artificial limbs.
Some are specialized in one type of material.
Materials engineers use a wide variety of technical materials to investigate physical structures and evaluate their behavior under conditions such as temperature, pressure, and stress.
For example, electron microscopes use X-rays to examine internal structures, revealing the way materials behave, for example the changes they undergo under extreme temperatures. They use computers to evaluate and test materials, and create computer models of the internal structures of materials and the reactions of those materials to various experiments.
Materials engineers can use their knowledge to control the structure of materials. This allows them to manipulate its characteristics, such as strength, or the specific materials that can be applied in each case.
In research and development, materials engineers meet the demand for new and better materials. For example, the aeronautical industry demands increasingly strong materials and light alloys for the structure of aircraft.
In addition to developing and improving materials, a fundamental part of their job is to check the quality and safety of materials, by implementing surveillance strategies to ensure the safe use of materials. These are methods of non-destructive testing and analysis of defective parts.
For example, oil refineries use very high temperatures and pressures, and require materials that do not rust, to minimize the risk of leakage of liquids and gases into the environment.
Because corrosion can only be visualized at a later stage, engineers must ensure a monitoring system to detect clues of this corrosion in its early stage.
Measures to control corrosion include the use of more resistant materials, changes in plant operation, monitoring, and the addition of substances that slow down corrosion.
Environmental issues are increasingly important in this profession. Materials engineers are looking for ways to recycle materials, to reduce waste and energy consumption.
Materials engineers work in laboratories for their basic tasks, and can visit noisy, dirty, and potentially dangerous workshops and factories. Sometimes they wear protective clothing like helmets, boots, and gloves.
Materials engineers can visit international industry clients to find out technical requirements or to explain the latest technological advances.