What Does a Ceramic Engineer Do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A ceramic engineer is a materials specialist who focuses on the use of ceramics in the production of products ranging from heat-resistant tiles on spacecraft to fiber optic cable. These engineers can work in a lab environment to develop new materials and improve existing ones, in addition to finding new uses for existing products and components. They also work in facilities that use ceramics to improve processes, streamline production, and monitor product safety and quality. Some focus on forensic applications for their knowledge, looking at what happens when ceramics fail and determining how to prevent future problems of a similar nature.

Heat-resistant ceramic tiles were used to protect the Space Shuttle's exterior during re-entry.
Heat-resistant ceramic tiles were used to protect the Space Shuttle's exterior during re-entry.

Ceramics engineering is a very broad field. Various industries make use of ceramics, including electronics, telecommunications, dentistry, astronomy, physics, and chemistry. Most engineers pick an area of specialty to focus on; for example, someone with an interest in medicine might concentrate on dental amalgams, ceramic components for joint replacement, and related topics. The work requires a deep understanding of the available materials as well as the needs and limitations of their applications.

Part of the work can include research in the lab with new and experimental materials. A ceramic engineer can perform testing to learn about the chemical, physical, and electrical properties of ceramic compounds and finished products. This information helps the researcher determine how and where products can be used, and what kinds of design modifications might be necessary to make a product more useful. This can include research on existing materials to make them stronger, more durable, and more useful for a broad spectrum of tasks.

In some industries, a ceramic engineer can act as a consultant for a facility that makes or uses ceramic products. The engineer can provide design recommendations, quality control advice, and other useful consulting services. Some facilities may use a ceramic engineer as a full time supervisor to monitor activity, especially with sensitive tasks like building containment areas for nuclear waste, or installing pollution control devices.

Forensic ceramic engineers may be called in if components fail unexpectedly. The consultant can inspect and test failed components to learn more about what occurred, and why. This can result in a recommendation to change product production and handling practices if the ceramic engineer identifies a problem with the product. In the event of a random failure, the advice might include better testing recommendations to identify components potentially prone to failure, and more comprehensive maintenance and inspection techniques to spot failing parts before catastrophe strikes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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