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Future of materials engineering

  • 1.  Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-16-2022 22:24
    Edited by Sreekar parimi 08-17-2022 20:11

    Hi everyone,

    I recently asked few senior material engineers about their opinion on future of metallurgy and material science engineers. 
    The response was pretty similiar....

    - Metallurgy is not a financially rewarding or secure career path anymore. Material science with particular emphasis on semiconductor applications is the only promising (or secure) long term avenue. Aerospace is saturated, 3D printing and nanotechnology are hyped and may be in infancy for indefinite period. 

    Personally, I am optimistic about medical device and renewables industry growth and corresponding demand of materials and metals (if not ferrous metallurgy, which might not have much change).

    However, in order to get a larger sample of perspectives.....I want to ask the same to ASM community of experts.
    a)   What does future look like for aspiring material specialists...Do we know of any industry reports on this.
    b)   What particular skills are most important to acquire/hone in order to stay relevant over next 40 years....

    Looking forward to hearing from you all.....

    Sreekar Parimi
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  • 2.  RE: Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-17-2022 08:30
    Good question. Today I develop services for the industry, in these segments they frequently need fault services, materials, welding, in general analysis and control, that is the current requirement, and I think we will have one generation more. The exception is the materials of the batteries that are developed, which is like today's race.
    But thinking about the next generation of engineers or scientists, it may be that we need to support the new professional in developing skills and knowledge in materials for the energy industry, recovery of old materials, superconductors and failure prediction.
    We also need to develop new materials that include quantum physics concepts, thinking about the components for the new computers and AI that are emerging today.

    Carlos A. Vergara B.

    Ingeniero Metalúrgico

    Análisis De Fallas

    Ingeniería y Servicios Solco Spa


    +1 281 899 0735

    Reñaca Norte 25, of 707, Reñaca, Chile

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  • 3.  RE: Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-17-2022 09:26
    What, did we suddenly stop using steel and aluminum alloys overnight? There is plenty of life left in metallurgy as a broad set of specialized skills is required in the use and maintenance of alloys. These range from research to heat treatment to product testing. New applications and science is being developed all the time. It is a misconception that metallurgy is not worthwhile.

    Aaron Tanzer
    Senior Metallurgical Engineer
    Metallurgical & Materials Technologies
    Baton Rouge LA
    (407) 247-9557

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  • 4.  RE: Future of materials engineering
    Best Answer

    Posted 08-18-2022 02:42
    Thanks for providing an involving discussion topic! This is the largest response to a single question that I have seen in quite a while here.

    I have to agree with a lot of the points that were made. I went through a very traditional metallurgical curriculum with the largest portion being on the physical metallurgy and end product properties, and a significant focus on industrial failure analysis. In the last 20 years or so it became increasingly difficult to find people with this sort of background. Part of this of course is because materials engineering has continued to expand and to have a generalist exposure to most of the topics means that you don't have a specialist exposure to any of them. There are continuing education courses in failure analysis but the University curriculums don't seem to cover it as an intensive area. ASMI seems to be a one of the major bastions of information in this area still. As was mentioned, there are still very large amounts of industrial production of parts made of metal. Will this be true in 40 years?  There will certainly be some, absent the total collapse of civilization.

    Regarding the statement that metallurgy is not a financially rewarding or secure career path, the old rule of thumb used to be that engineers would hold five or more jobs during their working years. So not everybody stayed in metallurgy in any case, though some moved in while others moved out.

    While the pay scales for those entering the information economy do seem to be exceeding those traditionally applied to engineers, engineering that deals with physical structures and parts will still be in demand for the foreseeable future. And as Aaron and others have pointed out, scarcity in a necessary field will often lead to increase compensation for those who are still there. A more difficult trick is to have this reflect back to university curriculums. Traditionally the latest and greatest thing is what gets the attention from industry, financial support, equipment donations, etc. So they add more course hours in those areas and inevitably have to subtract from others.

    For non-electronic failure analysis, it seems to me that a golden age in that area was the forty to fifty year period beginning in roughly the 1960s, when the accumulated knowledge was collected and made available by groups like ASM. Also, metallography became standardized, electron microscopy became increasingly inexpensive and available, and the computerization of stress and strain analysis became much less expensive and generally available. At least in the USA, litigation and the costs of not getting a product right have markedly increased. These trends have made failure analysis a better documented and better funded profession. The decrease in practitioners can only improve financial prospects in at least the short to medium-term.

    The loss of technical expertise, and community knowledge, due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers are two items that seem to be negatively affecting the engineering profession. When there is no chance to pass along tribal knowledge and experience, there is a general loss of expertise, and few companies are willing to pay for the overlap of new hires with experienced. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. I have seen many errors that resulted from inexperienced specifiers of materials not knowing the reasons for the rules of thumb and the basis of industry specifications. Now that the writers of those specifications and their successors are gone from the job, and the long term view has become less popular, those who follow will inevitably have to learn the bitter lessons of failure that the rest of us called getting experience. Which leads to failure analysis!

    Paul Tibbals

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  • 5.  RE: Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-17-2022 09:34
    I don't know if I can agree with the assertion that metallurgy is not a financially rewarding or secure career path. Anecdote that it may be, I myself am doing just fine, and I'm sure that many on this forum could say the same. 

    Call me a contrarian but I think many people in the engineering/technology side of things have a bias towards futurism, "disrupting the status quo", etc. because they sound sexy and avant-garde, and it's all very grandiose but in reality, there's a lot of "nuts and bolts" work out there that keeps society running - machines need to be built and repaired, people need to put gas in their cars, people expect the lights to turn on when they flip a switch, etc., and all that relies on thousands of engineers going to work everyday to do work that is not necessarily cutting-edge or on the cover of any magazine. Metallurgists work for pipeline companies, oil refineries, mines, forge shops, consumer goods manufacturers, government agencies, you name it, and demand for the products of those industries isn't going away anytime soon. The nature of the economy will evolve of course but that just means that people will transition from one field to another; maybe instead of working for oil refineries, more people will work for battery companies if/when EV's really take off, or maybe the people working at forge/casting houses will go to work for 3D printing shops. But they'll still remain employed as metallurgists. I think, more than anything, this boils down to the flexibility and resiliency of the individual and their character - anyone with a solid baseline knowledge of the subject matter and an open mind can adapt to the market changing over time, which is a very normal phenomenon.

    If anything, I think the misconception that metallurgy and related fields (for example, NDE) are dying is good for the people who choose to stick it out because it's a simple supply and demand equation - if we suppose (as I argue above) that there will always be demand for this skill in the marketplace, and supply of people who have this skill is decreasing, then the value of the labor of those who do have it will increase, and with it our compensation. For example, I know people in the NDE industry who will tell you that the average age of a level 3 right now is mid 50's, and guess what - in 10 or 15 years when they retire, you're still going to have just as many bridges, pipelines, forgings, etc. out there needing inspection, which means the people left with that certification will basically be naming their price. This phenomenon isn't unique to metallurgy either - despite historical stereotypes about it being second class work compared to white collar occupations (which I would argue are ridiculous), skilled tradesmen like plumbers and electricians are making a killing right now because fewer people are going into those jobs but there is always steady demand for those services. Even in 100 years when we're all living in the metaverse or whatever, homes are still going to have pipes and wires in the walls that need installation and servicing by a licensed and competent plumber or electrician. Demand for many of these skills simply isn't going away.

    So going back to your original question - I think the best skills to have in 40 years are the ones that most people assume will be obsolete in 40 years because they very likely won't be, and you can profit greatly from that miscalculation.

    Sean Piper
    Product / Process Metallurgist
    Ellwood Texas Forge Houston
    Houston TX
    (713) 434-5138

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  • 6.  RE: Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-18-2022 03:32

    Here's the thing. We are going to have all of these wonderful new things such as quantum computers and fusion reactors and wind turbines. Presumably they are going to need buildings to shield them and to have some physical infrastructure around them. Also we are somehow going to have to transport components across terrain too get them where they need to be and even shielding for the fibre optics leave alone cables for power transmission. I guess metal have a long way to go yet. Just like we tend to forget that we need creative people to design stuff, we tend to forget how mech of our world is made of metallics. Where there are metals there will need to be metallurgists. The dinosaurs aren't quite extinct yet.


    Best regards


    Jeffrey Stephen Jones BSc. (Eng) MIMMM C.Eng.

    Principal Engineer
    Safety and integrity
    Energy Systems


    GL Industrial Services UK Ltd.

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  • 7.  RE: Future of materials engineering

    Posted 08-17-2022 09:36
    Hi Sreekar,
    You have two questions,

    a)   What does future look like for aspiring material specialists...Do we know of any industry reports on this.
    b)   What particular skills are most important to acquire/hone in order to stay relevant over next 40 years....

    Question a,
    I can't answer to the point, and not a job analyst but there will be always a need for Metallurgy and Materials Science Engineers out in the field. There is a need for engineers who can do (accurate) failure analysis which applies to all the fields. Materials can fail.  Metallurgy and Materials Science is a unique field and not many students like it.  I was other way around I changed my carrier from Mechanical to Materials Science. I know and speaking from my many years of experience in variety of fields within the Metallurgy and Materials Science. . Also there are not many universities offer degree in this field either.

    Question b,
    Metallurgy and Ma