Metallurgical engineers research various types of metal ores and alloys to design stronger, lighter and more versatile products and equipment. Some engineers specialize in extraction metallurgy, which involves developing more efficient procedures for removing usable metal from ore. Others practice physical metallurgy, which involves inventing new products and improving existing manufacturing techniques. Metallurgical engineer jobs are found in many different settings, including manufacturing plants, steel mills, refineries and research and development laboratories.
Many metallurgical engineer jobs involve designing machines, equipment and processes for extracting metal from raw ores. Engineers who work in refineries and manufacturing plants experiment with different small-scale procedures to separate pure metal elements from waste material. They design crushing, grinding and sifting machinery, and develop more efficient chemical extraction methods. Many professionals specialize in improving leaching procedures, which involve dissolving waste materials from raw ores to obtain the usable metal within. Some extraction engineers work on-site at mining operations to help determine the best methods for tapping into and collecting ore deposits.
Physical metallurgical engineers study the chemical and physical properties of metallic elements. They experiment with different types of metals and alloys to determine which ones are best suited for particular uses. For example, a metallurgical engineer who works for a research and development facility may be asked to design a lightweight, strong golf club head. He would conduct a series of experiments with different metals, such as titanium and cobalt, to determine the most reliable material for the product. Metallurgical engineers with mechanical engineering experience may also engage in the actual prototype construction and testing phases of their designs.
Professionals who hold metallurgical engineer jobs in the aerospace, shipbuilding and automobile industries develop safer, more efficient metal parts for different types of vehicles. Engineers may design gas tanks, engine compartments and exhaust systems that are less susceptible to rust and temperature. They determine how to make car and airplane bodies stronger without sacrificing functionality and aerodynamics. Some very skilled metallurgical engineers work in government and military space agencies to create products that can hold up to extreme heat and pressure.
A bachelor's degree in chemical or mechanical engineering is needed to obtain most metallurgical engineer jobs. Some colleges offer specialized master's degrees in materials science and engineering to further prepare students for employment in the field. New employees typically work as research assistants to senior engineers for several years to gain practical experience and become familiar with the various technical and administrative duties involved in metallurgical engineer jobs.