I knew nothing about metallurgy and engineering when I chose metallurgical engineering as a major. As a 17-year-old, I liked math and science and decided I’d select engineering as a major in college. Then, I was visiting a cousin in engineering grad school, and he showed me some of the things he was working on, which involved metals, and I saw people using an optical pyrometer to measure the temperature of metal they were melting. Based on that I chose metallurgical engineering. I guess it was as good a reason as any for a 17-year-old that had no exposure to the world of engineering.
After more than 30 years working in product design and manufacturing, and engineering forensics, I can say that I love being a metallurgical engineer. I guess I should really say materials engineer because I’ve worked with a few other materials besides metals.
I’m passionate about understanding why materials behave the way they do, the manufacturing processes and process control used to manipulate materials’ macroscopic shape and dimensions and manipulate materials’ composition and microscopic features, and the tools used to characterize materials.
Also, the huge number of materials and the huge number of methods for manipulating and shaping the materials into engineering components never ceases to amaze me. One of the great achievements of humanity has been our ability to create and use materials to make the structures, vehicles, and other things around us.
All the man-made things we have are made of materials than have been engineered to have specific properties. Everything is comprised of an assembly of materials shaped into individual components. And our understanding and application of materials science has given us the ability to consistently make products of high performance and reliability. Many at crazy low costs.
Materials science and engineering touches all aspects of product design and manufacturing – component design, manufacturing and assembly, supplier selection, reliability testing, and root cause analysis of quality problems and product failures.
Designing components that meet their performance and reliability requirements at low cost requires selecting materials with the composition, microstructure, and properties necessary to meet the requirements.
Manufacturing materials and components and assembling components requires using and controlling processes capable of shaping and modifying the materials so that the materials, components, and joints between components have the desired composition, microstructure, and properties. Understanding the effects of the processes on the materials and the dependence of the processes on the composition, microstructure, and properties of the materials being processed is also important.
Selecting suppliers capable of providing materials, components, and assemblies that consistently meet requirements requires evaluating their ability to use and control their processes so that the materials in the item being produced have the necessary composition, microstructure, and properties.
Evaluating the reliability of products requires understanding the tests to perform and how to perform them so that the appropriate material behavior is being evaluated and any materials degradation that occurs correlates with that expected during actual use. This requires knowledge of how materials degrade when exposed to different conditions and the effects of composition and microstructure on the type and amount of degradation.
Finally, quickly determining the root cause analysis of manufacturing and supplier quality problems and product failures requires failure analysis of the materials, components, and/or joints in question. This requires using materials analysis techniques to evaluate the materials’ composition, microstructure, and properties and using the data to determine whether the materials met requirements, the conditions to which the materials were exposed, and the type of any degradation that may have occurred. This information is used to identify the root cause of problems.
I have been involved with all these aspects of design and manufacturing and have enjoyed all the technical challenges and seeing the effects of applying my understanding of metals to make engineering decisions and solve engineering problems. Though, at this point in my career, what I most enjoy is helping clients get the metallurgy information they need to feel confident about engineering decisions and to remove the frustration when dealing with problems. To many people metallurgy seems like a dark art, so it's fun to help lift the veil and help people use metallurgy. The reality is, we metallurgists do have our own engineering language.
I feel fortunate to have randomly walked into metallurgical engineering and all the different engineering situations and products I have experienced.