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What does a Metallurgical Engineer do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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There are many things that metallurgical engineers do on a day to day basis, but most of their work centers on the conversion of raw metal, often in ore form, into a more useable format. These sorts of professionals most commonly work in the steel and iron business, but some may also focus on copper, aluminum, or more precious metals like silver and gold. They are usually involved in the processing of materials from mines or in an industry that manufactures machinery or products made of these metal; sometimes, depending on the circumstances, they can do both. In any event, they are often involved in the development of different processing methods to more economically and easily turn metals into useful products. People working in this field usually have a lot of scientific training and are often seen to be experts in metal from a chemical perspective. Getting started in the career often involves as much book learning as hands-on experience, and people interested in this sort of job are usually wise to start planning early.

Metallurgical Work Generally

Humans have used metals for centuries, and metals of many varieties are an important part of most modern manufacturing processes. Metallurgical work is slightly different from ordinary metalworking, though. Metalworking is the process manufacturers use to shape and craft metal into the shapes most people recognize and use every day, but metallurgy is the science behind choosing the right metal and getting it into the right chemical and alloyed state so that it can be manipulated and used for more specific purposes. It involves a lot of science and hands-on testing. The main gist of the job is usually to stabilize various metals and to help make them as strong as possible, often with a particular use in mind. Some engineers work very closely with the manufacturing process and so have some sense of where the metal they’ve worked with is ending up, but not all do.

Physical Engineering Work

The two main types of metallurgy are physical and extractive. The former concentrates on the physical properties and structures of alloys and metals. The latter is devoted to separating metal from ore.

Physical metallurgical engineers are dedicated to developing of new alloys and production processes for welding, alloying, melting, and casting. Since most metals cannot be utilized in their purest forms, it is necessary to create combinations, or alloys, that can provide strong yet lightweight metal for things as wide ranging as car bodies and electronic devices. This type of engineer most often works in labs or manufacturing operations.

Extractive Jobs

Extractive metallurgical engineers, on the other hand, create and oversee extraction processes and usually work closely with mining engineers. They then refine the metals recovered, and often come up with new alloys for various applications. Their typical work setting is a laboratory, steel mill, ore treatment plant, or refinery.

Essential Job Requirements

Both types of engineers must be comfortable working independently as well as on a team. Meetings and planning sessions are often required with a wide range of personnel, from mining foremen to plant supervisors. Though there is some variation between specific jobs, in general the position requires an above-average aptitude in math and science and a dedication to keeping up on industry developments and advancements. Good oral and written communication skills are also usually really important, both to be a good team member and to enable clear explanations of ideas and concepts to others.

Much like metallurgists or metallurgical scientists, metallurgical engineers commonly use advanced equipment such as X-ray devices, spectrographs, and electron microscopes in their research and development. These sorts of professionals are usually required to keep abreast of all the latest advancements in related scientific and technical fields. Their work may be confined to a laboratory or require travel to remote sites and plants.

Training and Education

In most cases, jobs in this field require at least an undergraduate degree, usually in materials science, metallurgical engineering, or metallurgy itself; sometimes degrees in chemistry or engineering more generally will also suffice. Many of the most senior positions also require an advanced degree, and many professionals in this field choose to continue their studies while working. Employers sometimes pay for or contribute to tuition costs to help an engineer's job performance or to increase job-related knowledge.

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Discussion Comments

By Oski — On Jun 25, 2011

@goldenbears - First of all, let me say thank you for working under such dangerous conditions. People often times do not realize how much work goes into digging out the materials that we need in our daily lives. If people will just look around the room that they are in right now, they will find at least one thing that had to be extracted from a mine.

If you want to continue working with metals, then I would suggest that you become a science teacher. Depending on your education, you can even get a job in a community college as a professor. I think it is important that you spread your love of metals with the next generation of scientists and engineers. Giving back feels good.

I hope your health gets better, and good luck on your future endeavors.

By SuperJD — On Jun 24, 2011

Anyone who works in mines, like metallurgical engineers do, are putting themselves in great danger. Not only can something go wrong in the mine, as in it caves in or an explosion happens, but the fumes that you breathe in are dangerous to your health.

I have been working in iron mines for over 15 years, and I have started to develop breathing problems. My wife has been hoping that I would find somewhere else to work, but I love working outdoors. However, my health is in jeopardy, so I think my time in the mines is up.

Now, I have to find a job in which I can apply my love for the precious metals of the earth's surface.

By goldenbears — On Jun 23, 2011

My brother has been a metallurgical engineer for a number of years now. I never understood what he did until reading this article. Thanks for posting it.

Based on what I have read, I think he works as an extractive metallurgic engineer. He spends all day out in mines, figuring out ways to extract iron from the ground. It is extremely dangerous work, and I pray for him every day.

Somebody has to do it. Our society is literally built on the metals that he extracts from the ground every day.

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