Ceramic Engineer

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Ceramic Engineer

Education and Training: Bachelor's degree or higher

Salary: Median—$67,110 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Ceramic engineers are specialized materials engineers who work with ceramics, which are nonmetallic, inorganic materials that are processed at high temperatures. Glass, porcelain, brick, and cement are all examples of ceramics. Ceramic engineers develop new ceramic products as well as methods and equipment for processing ceramic materials. They work with a wide variety of products, ranging from glassware and electronic components to nuclear reactors and linings for blast furnaces and jet engines.

Most ceramic engineers are employed in the stone, clay, and glass industries. Others work in industries that use ceramics, such as the aerospace, iron and steel, and chemical industries. Some ceramic engineers teach and do research in universities. Others work for government agencies and research centers.

Ceramic engineers often specialize in one type of work. For example, many are involved in research and development. They develop new ceramic materials synthetically or from minerals found in the earth. Ceramics for superconductivity require rare earth minerals, including yttrium and erbium. Other ceramic engineers advance the technology of existing ceramics, such as improving heat and fire resistance. Ceramic engineers may also explore new uses for ceramic products, such as using ceramics in miniaturized circuits and human bone and teeth replacements. Many ceramic engineers are involved in production. They direct the processing of the natural raw minerals and synthetic materials used to make ceramics. They also design the kilns and other equipment used in manufacturing as well as direct the crews that build the plants and operate the kilns. Other ceramic engineers work in sales and show customers ways to use ceramics to solve their design and production problems. They sometimes oversee the installation and operation of ceramic equipment in customers' plants.

There are also several product fields within the industry. Ceramic engineers usually specialize in one or more of these products. For example, some work with refractories, which are fire- and heat-resistant materials. For example, coatings made of refractory materials are used to protect the metal exteriors of spacecraft. Ceramic engineers who specialize in electrical ceramic materials are called dielectrical engineers. They are concerned with the production of thermal, nuclear, and electrical current containments for power generation. Many engineers specialize in glass and whitewares, which is a broad field that includes china dishes and electric insulators. Other special product fields include abrasives, cements, structural ceramics, superconducting materials, and nonmetallic nuclear fuels.

Ceramics is a materials science, which means that it includes the study of the properties and uses of metals and plastics. Engineers in the ceramics industry often work as part of a team of engineers and technicians. They need to have some knowledge of other engineering fields, especially electrical engineering. They must also understand both open-pit and underground mining methods. Although ceramic engineering is a relatively small field, it is related to many others. In medicine, for example, ceramic carbon fiber patches may be used to help repair ligament damage. Ceramic engineers work with physicists developing superconductors.

Education and Training Requirements

To enter this field, you need a bachelor's degree, which takes four or five years of study. In some programs, you can combine work experience with classroom study. Some jobs require advanced degrees. You can earn a master's degree in an additional one to two years of full-time study. It usually takes about four years of study after obtaining a bachelor's degree to receive a doctoral degree. Employers usually encourage engineers to continue their education to improve their job performance. Many pay tuition for advanced degrees. Engineers must read and study throughout their careers to keep up with changes in engineering technology.

Engineers who offer their services to the public or whose work affects life, health, or property must be licensed by the state in which they work. In general, they need a degree from an approved engineering college, about four years of work experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination before they can be licensed as professional engineers.

Getting the Job

Your college placement office will help you find a job as a ceramic engineer. If you take part in a work-study program in college, you may be able to continue working for your employer after you graduate. You can also check job listings in newspaper classifieds, job banks on the Internet, and trade and professional journals. Attending conferences of the professional associations and looking at company exhibits may give you a better idea of the job opportunities available.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Ceramic engineers often start as assistants and then advance to positions with more responsibility. They can become junior members of sales or production teams. With more education and experience, they can become project supervisors, department heads, and even executives of large companies.

Materials engineers in general are expected to have employment growth about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. Although declining employment is expected in this profession, ceramics engineers still will be needed to develop new materials for electronics and biotechnology. Growth should be particularly strong for engineers working on nanomaterials (microscopic technology).

Working Conditions

Working conditions depend on the area of employment within the field. Ceramic engineers in research and development often work forty-hour weeks, mostly in modern offices and laboratories. Those involved in production are likely to spend more time at production or construction sites. They may have to work overtime or rotating shifts. Sales engineers must travel extensively. All ceramic engineers spend additional time on the job when deadlines must be met.

Ceramic engineers must be able to solve problems and communicate their ideas to others. They should have skill in science and mathematics. Because they often work as part of a team, ceramic engineers should also be able to cooperate and work well with others.

Where to Go for More Information

The American Ceramic Society
735 Ceramic Place, Ste. 100
Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 890-4700

National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-2794
(703) 684-2800

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on the education and experience of the ceramic engineer, the location, and the type of job. In 2005 the average annual salary for a ceramics engineer working for the federal government was $100,059. In 2004 the median annual earnings of materials engineers in general were $67,110. In 2005 the average starting salary for a materials engineer with a bachelor's degree was $50,982. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement savings plans.