What does a Plastics Engineer do?

Patrick Roland

A plastics engineer is an expert on plastics, the semi-liquid chemical polymers used every day. This job requires a firm grasp on chemistry and physics in order to perform the various duties within the industry. In tasks such as developing, researching, testing and problem solving, plastics engineering is necessary for organizations as diverse as automobile manufacturers, toy makers and food storage.

A plastic box.
A plastic box.

Development unquestionably is one of the most important roles for a plastics engineer. New techniques and new chemical combinations constantly are being created in order to better serve the plastics market, and engineers lead the way in inventing these new plastic products. By applying the skills learned while obtaining an engineering degree, these engineers frequently work in labs in order to develop plastics. Most likely, they are called on for their expertise because a client needs a stronger, lighter or cheaper plastic than already was in use.

Plastic tube.
Plastic tube.

Testing goes along with the development portion of the job of a plastics engineer. Using his or her expertise in the chemical and physical capabilities of plastics, the engineer puts new products through vigorous examinations to prove their sustainability. Weather testing, strength testing, thermal testing at high and low temperatures, chemical testing and even electric conductivity tests are applied to various plastics. If a plastic fails testing, the engineer often will return to the development stage to improve upon its design.

Research is another equally important element of this career. A plastics engineer must read academic research on the latest techniques and polymers being created by other labs, so that he or she will better understand current breakthroughs. In addition, it is important for an engineer to be able to look back at the issues involved with the formation of certain plastics to determine how they were overcome. Fast, efficient research skills help engineers remain productive and on the leading edge when competition is stiff.

Problem solving is a constant concern for a plastics engineer. A normal day of testing and creating new products rarely goes smoothly, and engineers must use training and experience to overcome difficult engineering hurdles. By applying the scientific method and critical-thinking skills, engineers routinely are seen as the top problem solvers in an organization. Frequently, an engineer with superb problem-solving skills will be able to move into a managerial role because he or she frequently is called upon when answers cannot be determined by others.

Plastic blocks made with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a type of thermoplastic.
Plastic blocks made with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a type of thermoplastic.

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