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What Materials Engineers Do About this section

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 biomedical devices. They study the properties and structures of metals, ceramics, plastics, composites, nanomaterials (extremely small substances), and other substances in order to create new materials that meet certain mechanical, electrical, and chemical requirements. They also help select materials for specific products and develop new ways to use existing materials.

Duties

Materials engineers typically do the following:

  • Plan and evaluate new projects, consulting with other engineers and managers 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 ways of overcoming such failure
  • Evaluate technical specifications and economic factors relating to the design objectives of processes or products
  • Evaluate the impact of materials processing on the environment

Materials engineers create and study materials at the atomic level. They use computers to understand and model the characteristics of materials and their components. They solve problems in several different 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 develop 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 develop and test 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 About this section

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

Materials engineers held about 22,100 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of materials engineers were as follows:

Transportation equipment manufacturing 15%
Engineering services 11
Computer and electronic product manufacturing 8
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 7
Primary metal manufacturing 6

Materials engineers often work in offices where they have access to computers and design equipment. Others work in factories or research and development laboratories. Materials engineers may work in teams with scientists and engineers from other backgrounds.

Work Schedules

Materials engineers generally work full time. Some materials engineers work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Materials Engineer About this section

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

Materials engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering or in a related engineering field. Completing internships and cooperative-engineering programs while in school may be helpful for gaining hands-on experience.

Education

High school students interested in studying materials engineering should take classes in math, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics; and computer programming.

Entry-level jobs for materials engineers typically require a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Programs typically last 4 years and include classroom and laboratory work focusing on engineering principles.

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 a postsecondary teacher or to do research and development.

Many colleges and universities offer internships and cooperative programs in partnership with industry employers. In these programs, students gain practical experience while completing their education.

Employers may prefer to hire graduates of engineering programs accredited by a professional association such as ABET. A degree from an 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 determine how materials will be used and how they must be structured to withstand different 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 materials’ structures, their properties, how they are made, and how these factors affect the products they are used to make. They must also figure out why a product might have failed, design a solution, and then conduct tests to make sure that the product does not fail again. These skills involve being able to identify root causes when many factors could be at fault.

Speaking skills. While working with technicians, technologists, and other engineers, materials engineers must state concepts and directions clearly. When speaking with managers, these engineers must also communicate engineering concepts to people who may 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

Licensure for materials engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor it is required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

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 science organizations.

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

Advancement

Junior 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. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.

Pay About this section

Materials Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Engineers

$99,040

Materials engineers

$98,300

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for materials engineers was $98,300 in May 2021. 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 $60,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $161,080.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for materials engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Computer and electronic product manufacturing $112,330
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 106,430
Transportation equipment manufacturing 102,080
Engineering services 86,980
Primary metal manufacturing 82,380

Most materials engineers work full time. Some materials engineers work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook About this section

Materials Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Materials engineers

6%

Engineers

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of materials engineers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 1,700 openings for materials engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

As demand for new materials and manufacturing processes continues to increase, more materials engineers are expected to be needed to help develop these products and systems.  For example, new metal alloys are expected to be developed to make airplanes lighter and more fuel efficient. A greater focus on environmental sustainability also may create demand for materials engineers.

Employment projections data for materials engineers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Materials engineers

17-2131 22,100 23,400 6 1,300 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about materials engineering career resources, visit

The American Ceramic Society

American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers

Materials Research Society

The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society

For information about general engineering 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 more information about certification, visit

ASM International

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering Education Service Center

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Materials Engineers

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