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Metallurgical Engineer Job Description, Career as a Metallurgical Engineer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Bachelor's degree or higher

Salary: Median—$67,110 per year

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Metallurgical engineers develop ways of processing metals and converting them into useful products. Metallurgy, the science of metals, is one of the materials sciences. Other materials sciences include physical metallurgy, ceramics, and polymer chemistry, or plastics. Metallurgical engineers, a subspecialty of materials engineers, work primarily in industrial areas, particularly in the iron and steel industries. Some work with other metals such as aluminum or copper. Metallurgical engineers are also employed in industries that make machinery and other products using metal, such as automobiles and electrical equipment. Some work for government agencies or colleges and universities.

The work of metallurgical engineers is similar to the work of metallurgical scientists, or metallurgists. Metallurgical engineers use complex equipment, including electron microscopes, X-ray machines, and spectrographs. They use the latest scientific and technological findings in their work. Metallurgical engineers are often assisted by metallurgical technicians.

There are two main branches of metallurgy—extractive metallurgy and physical metallurgy. Extractive metallurgy involves the separation, or extraction, of metals from ores. Ores are mixtures of metals and other substances. Once the ore has been mined, many steps are needed to extract the metal and refine it to a relatively pure form. Metallurgical engineers design and supervise the processes that separate the metals from their ores. They often cooperate with mining engineers in the early steps of the extraction process. After metallic compounds have been separated from the rock and other waste materials, metallurgical engineers can use a number of different processes to refine the metals. These processes Metallurgical engineers who work in physical metallurgy develop new alloys for products such as electronics equipment and automobiles. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) might involve the use of heat, electric current, or chemicals dissolved in water to produce a pure and usable metal.

Metallurgical engineers involved in extractive metallurgy work in laboratories, ore treatment plants, refineries, and steel mills. They are concerned with finding new and better ways of separating relatively small amounts of metal from huge quantities of waste rock. They must consider the effects that the process has on the environment, the conservation of energy, and the proper disposal of the waste rock.

Physical metallurgy is the study of the structure and physical properties of metals and alloys. It also involves the many processes used to convert a refined metal into a finished product. Most metals are not useful in their pure form. They must be made into alloys, or mixtures of a metal and one or more other elements. Steel is an example of an alloy. It is made from iron and small amounts of carbon and other elements. Copper and zinc are combined to form another alloy, brass. Scientists and metallurgical engineers work in physical metallurgy to develop new alloys to meet many needs. These alloys include radiation shielding for nuclear reactors, lightweight but high-strength steel for automobile bodies, and special metals used in electronic equipment. Physical metallurgical engineers also develop production processes that include melting, casting, alloying, rolling, and welding. They design and supervise the processes that produce such goods as structural steel, wire, or sheets of aluminum. Sometimes they are involved in processes that use these metal goods in the manufacture of other finished products. Physical metallurgists often work in laboratories or in manufacturing plants.

Education and Training Requirements

You need at least a bachelor's degree to become a metallurgical engineer. You can major in metallurgical engineering, metallurgy, or materials science. It usually takes four or five years to earn a bachelor's degree. Some colleges and universities offer a work-study program, which combines practical work experience with formal study. However, many jobs require an advanced degree. You can earn a master's degree in one or two years of additional full-time study. It usually takes about four years of full time study to receive a doctoral degree once you have earned a bachelor's degree. Many metallurgical engineers continue their education while they are employed. Often their employers cover the cost of tuition for courses that will improve their job performance. Since metallurgy is a changing field, engineers have to continue studying and reading professional journals throughout their careers.

Engineers who offer their services to the public or whose work affects life, health, or property must be licensed by the state in which they work. They generally need a degree from an approved college, about four years of experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before they can be licensed as a professional engineer.

Getting the Job

Your college placement office may be able to help you find a job as a metallurgical engineer. If you take part in a work-study program, you may be able to continue working full time for your employer after you graduate. You can apply directly to companies in the metals industries that hire metallurgical engineers. Sometimes job openings are listed in newspaper classifieds, Internet job banks, and trade and professional journals.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

As they gain experience on the job, metallurgical engineers can advance to positions that have more responsibility. Experienced metallurgical engineers, especially those with an advanced degree, can be promoted to top positions in research and management. They can also teach on the college level and become consultants to industry and government.

While materials engineers in general are expected to have employment growth about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014, the employment outlook for metallurgical engineers is only fair. Declines in manufacturing industries such as primary metals, industrial machinery and equipment, and stone, clay, and glass products are expected. However, employment growth is projected in service industries such as research and testing, personnel supply, and engineering and architectural services.

Working Conditions

Working conditions for metallurgical engineers vary with their jobs. Most engineers spend some time in offices and laboratories where they work with other engineers and metallurgical technicians. They also do some of their work alone. Some metallurgical engineers meet with supervisors at mines and plants. Production sites can be hot and noisy. In some areas engineers have to wear protective glasses and clothing.

Forty-hour workweeks are standard. Some metallurgical engineers are expected to work rotating shifts. Overtime is also sometimes necessary, especially when project deadlines must be met. Engineers must also devote some time to keeping up with new findings in their field.

Metallurgical engineers should enjoy the challenge of a demanding profession. They should enjoy solving problems and have aptitude in science and mathematics. Because they must often work as part of a team, metallurgical engineers should be able to get along with other people. It is also important for engineers to be able to communicate their ideas to others.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society for Metals/ASM International
9639 Kinsman Rd.
Materials Park, OH 44073-0002
(440) 338-5151

National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-2794
(703) 684-2800

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries depend on the education and experience of the metallurgical engineer, the location, and the kind of job. In 2004 the median annual income of materials engineers in general was $67,110. In 2005 the average starting salary for a materials engineer with a bachelor's degree was $50,982. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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