What Do Material Engineers Do? And How to Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you want to work in engineering, you can benefit from learning more about material engineer duties. These careers establish the improvement of materials and their overall quality. Learning the answer to "What do material engineers do?" can help you determine whether this is the right career for achieving your goals. In this article, we discuss typical duties and salaries for material engineers, provide you with a guide on how to become a material engineer, and explore similar job titles.

What do material engineers do?

The full answer to "What do material engineers do?" is that they're engineering professionals who create materials to improve a product's quality, reduce its production costs, or add new functionality. Material engineers typically work as developers, researchers, and project managers simultaneously. They guide teams of other scientists and engineers to create prototypes, test them, and make improvements before a company applies the new material in a product for other businesses or consumers. A material engineer can find employment with a corporation, research lab, or independent client.

Material engineers identify the limitations of products or technologies and research material-based solutions to overcome them. Material engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and natural sciences to develop ideas for new materials and then conduct experiments to determine their usefulness. For example, an industrial material engineer can test different alloys to discover an exceptionally strong combination of metals to use in the construction industry. Here are some qualities material engineers frequently aim to improve:

  • Durability: Material engineers create materials that can withstand greater stresses without breaking or experiencing damage. For example, they can improve electronics screens so that they're less likely to crack.

  • Extreme condition readiness: Material engineers can find solutions that allow products to resist extreme weather or operating conditions. An outerwear company might hire material engineers to design materials for coats that keep people warm in subzero temperatures.

  • Ease of production: Material engineers develop materials that are easier to make, simplifying manufacturing processes. The increased popularity of meat replacements, for example, depends on material engineers creating substances that companies can produce on a large scale.

  • Cost of production: Material engineers innovate materials that are cheaper to produce, boosting a company's profitability. A material engineer can save a toy manufacturer money by replacing an expensive-to-produce plastic with a cheaper alternative that has the same qualities.

How to become a material engineer

Here's a guide to help you become a material engineer:

1. Obtain an education

If you're interested in a material engineering career, you can benefit from taking as many high school math and science courses as possible. As an undergraduate student, you may major in engineering to develop the structural analysis, data modelling, and design skills you can use during your career. A master's degree might enhance your candidacy but isn't typically a requirement for hire. Many universities offer programs that enable you to complete both your bachelor's and master's degree in only five years.

Related: How to Become a Certified Quality Engineer (With Steps)

2. Complete training

There typically aren't any formal training requirements to become an entry-level material engineer, but pursuing professional training can increase your chances of obtaining a job. Internships can teach you the workflows and basic duties material engineers execute. To obtain an internship in this field, you can seek a full-time mentor, or you can ask about internships during your studies.

Related: How to Become a Safety Engineer (With Definition and Steps)

3. Develop skills

Here's a list of critical skills for material engineers:

  • Research skills: Material engineers are typically expert researchers who can efficiently gather information, develop experiments, collect data, and determine meaningful conclusions.

  • Analytical skills: They may also use analytical skills to identify the unique properties of the materials, interpret research findings, and understand the reasons for material failures.

  • Problem-solving skills: These engineers may explore a design or structural problem, brainstorm material-based solutions, and perform tests to compare ideas. They use creativity and adaptability to consider previously unexplored material possibilities.

  • Communication skills: Material engineers use communication skills such as active listening, open-mindedness and clear verbalization within their teams when conducting research. They also write clearly, easily understood reports that can explain the significance of findings to non-engineer colleagues.

  • Leadership skills: They often lead teams of technologists, engineers, and scientists when developing materials. Their leadership skills can empower them to collaborate productively, create respectful work environments, improve employees' performance, and provide constructive feedback.

Similar job titles

Here's a list of similar job titles for those who want to work as material engineers:

1. Construction engineer

Average national salary: $74,415 per year

Primary duties: Construction engineers help with the planning and design of large civil projects like buildings, roads, bridges, and waste management. These professionals also develop construction specifications and procedures. They assess drawings and designs of projects, oversee schedules, manage resources, and calculate project costs.

Related: How to Become a Train Engineer in 6 Steps (Plus Salary)

2. Water resources engineer

Average national salary: $82,732 per year

Primary duties: Water resources engineer involve the assessment of a community or company's water requirements and needs. These professionals also help with the design of treatment plants and other water resources. They conduct analyses of their clients' water resources and work with treatment plants, supply systems, and pipelines. Water resources engineers also oversee wastewater for private and public uses.

3. Maintenance engineer

Average national salary: $78,126 per year

Primary duties: Maintenance engineers oversee the installation and maintenance of industrial equipment in the aviation, medical, and manufacturing industries. These professionals provide solutions for complex troubleshooting issues and conduct repairs on-site when required. They also travel between client locations and update old equipment by installing new equipment.

4. Land development engineer

Average national salary: $81,172 per year

Primary duties: Land development engineers oversee the creation and design of roads and general land development, which includes site plans, infrastructure, and structures. These professionals develop plans for residential, commercial, and industrial projects. They determine whether projects are realistic and provide land assessments to determine whether the land can support additional development.

5. Industrial engineer

Average national salary: $73,099 per year

Primary duties: Industrial engineers aim to improve operations and analyze the production and design of integrated systems. These professionals also optimize the internal procedures of organizations. They design workflows and aim to reduce inefficiency to improve productivity. Industrial engineers help ensure that the final product fulfills the client's standards and expectations. To do this, they establish quality control assessments and procedures.

6. Marine engineer

Average national salary: $19.98 per hour

Primary duties: Marine engineers oversee the design and maintenance of marine vehicles like ships, boats, and other water vessels. These professionals navigate the steering, propulsion, and systems of ships. They also design equipment used when other professionals conduct ocean research. When issues arise on vessels, marine engineers conduct repairs and provide solutions for those issues.

7. Technical sales engineer

Average national salary: $73,547 per year

Primary duties: Technical sales engineers help general engineers and other technical staff with the development and design of company products, along with their systems. These professionals aim to sell products within the technical industry, and they provide explanations for the technical components of products. When required, technical sales engineers provide their clients and employers with recommendations for product improvements.

8. Civil engineer

Average national salary: $71,737 per year

Primary duties: Civil engineers oversee the design and plans of structures like buildings, roads, and bridges. These professionals establish the specifications of construction projects and determine whether the structures coincide with previously established budgets. They also recommend the best materials to use in the project.

Frequently asked questions about material engineering

Here's a list of answers to questions about material engineering:

How does material engineering impact environmental concerns?

Material engineers develop materials that require fewer resources, contain less toxic materials, or decompose quickly. For example, material engineers might enable companies to use recycled materials in an array of consumer products that can reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. These professionals can have a positive impact on environmental concerns.

How does material engineering address safety concerns?

Material engineers determine the impact of various materials on humans and living organisms by testing them. For example, medical implant manufacturers may depend on improvements in material engineering to create products that are both reliable and safe. When discovering new materials, they can also analyze the potential implications of using them and introducing them to the public.

How does material engineering impact capabilities?

Material engineers sometimes discover materials that impact the capability of people. For example, these professionals might discover materials that impact space exploration. This may occur because the materials discovered and developed make it possible to upgrade products and equipment used in space travel.

Salary figures reflect data listen on Indeed Salaries and quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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