You can specialise in a range of areas as a metallurgist, from traditional manufacturing roles to working with cutting-edge technology

As a metallurgist you'll be concerned with the extraction and processing of various metals and alloys. You'll investigate and examine the performance of metals such as iron, steel, aluminium, nickel and copper and use them to produce a range of useful products and materials with certain properties.

Your work may be in:

  • design and manufacture
  • production management
  • quality assurance
  • research and development.

You could be at the forefront of new technologies, developing metals for new applications, or involved in the traditional manufacture of anything from razor blades to washing machines.

You'll often work in multidisciplinary teams of engineers, scientists and business professionals.

Types of metallurgists

You may specialise as a:

  • chemical metallurgist: also known as extraction metallurgists, chemical metallurgists are involved in the extraction of usable metals from ores and studying metal corrosion and fatigue.
  • physical metallurgist: physical metallurgists monitor the behaviour of metals under stress and studying changes in temperature. You may be involved in inventing new products and improving manufacturing techniques.
  • process metallurgist: process metallurgists shape and join metals, selecting the best metal for the job.

Responsibilities

As a chemical metallurgist, you'll need to:

  • design and control processes to separate metals from ore
  • monitor and test for corrosion
  • develop ways to improve metals by making them stronger or more adaptable
  • test metals to ensure they meet quality and safety standards.

In physical metallurgy, you'll need to:

  • assess the physical structure and behaviour of metals
  • investigate accidents where it is suspected that the cause may be related to metallurgical failure, such as in air crashes
  • produce reports on research and tests carried out.

As a process metallurgist, you'll need to:

  • control the shaping of metals through casting, rolling, forging and drawing
  • join metals using welding and soldering techniques
  • design metal components and prototypes.

Across all of the specialist areas, you'll need to:

  • interpret and understand design drawings and make recommendations
  • make manufacturing time-critical decisions
  • monitor quality standards in manufacturing and finishing
  • take responsibility for health and safety issues of staff and components in manufacturing
  • carry out structural analysis using sophisticated computer software
  • write documents, manuals, metallurgical investigations, and reports in support of customer liaison
  • discuss different solutions to problems with other technical staff
  • interpret customers' manufacturing design requirements and product application
  • install and commission processing equipment
  • research and develop test or repair technology and new products.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for metallurgists are in the region of £22,000 to £28,000.
  • With several years' experience it's possible to progress to salaries of £30,000 to £45,000.
  • At a senior level and with chartered engineer (CEng) status, salaries of up to £60,000 may be achieved.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Typical working hours are 37 to 40 per week. In some roles this will be carried out Monday to Friday, but in manufacturing environments, you may be required to work shifts through a 24-hour system. Extra hours may be required at busy times.

With experience, it's possible to work as an independent consultant where you'd have more control over your own hours.

What to expect

  • Noise, dirt and heat are encountered in some metallurgical environments such as the heavy engineering sector. However, other environments, such as plasma spraying, require clean laboratories.
  • In many parts of the metals industry, female and ethnic minority graduates are underrepresented and are encouraged to apply. Organisations such as Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE offer support and professional development to women in this sector.
  • The UK metal sector is mainly concentrated in the West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West and the South East.
  • If you work as a technical representative you may need to spend time away from home at short notice.
  • Travel throughout the UK is required in some posts in order to visit clients, and overseas travel may be required in multinational organisations.

Qualifications

Relevant degree subjects which will help you to secure a position as a metallurgist include:

  • chemical engineering
  • materials science/engineering
  • metallurgy
  • physics.

It's useful if your first degree is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), as this can help you to achieve the status of incorporated (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng) at a later date. Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Some employers may accept you with a HND or foundation degree, but entry will usually be at a lower level as a technician. It's also likely that gaining professional status will take longer. Relevant HND/foundation degree subjects include:

  • applied science
  • manufacturing engineering
  • mechanical engineering
  • metallurgy and materials.

You may be required to have a related Masters or PhD for certain posts, such as research positions. Search for postgraduate courses in metallurgy.

Skills

As well as technical competence, you'll need to show:

  • good communication and presentation skills for reporting to customers and colleagues
  • team working skills with other engineers and scientists
  • business awareness
  • problem-solving ability to deal with manufacturing or technical issues
  • innovation and leadership
  • initiative, drive and enthusiasm for improving metals and methods used
  • numeracy skills
  • attention to detail to interpret design requirements and produce reports
  • the ability to focus on results.

Posts related to the defence industry are often open only to British nationals and security clearance may be required.

Knowledge of a foreign language is advantageous, especially in multinational organisations.

Work experience

Relevant pre-entry experience, such as hands-on knowledge of practical techniques, is desirable. Employers may be more interested if you have an understanding of what metallurgy actually involves along with some practical experience.

Get actively involved with specialist groups of relevant professional institutions such as the:

Most professional organisations run regular conferences and events and offer training and membership benefits for students. Joining them will offer you a direct insight into professional standards and provide you with the opportunity to network.

Employers

You could find work as a metallurgist with a range of organisations involved in the production or processing of metals. They include:

  • steel and stainless steel manufacturers producing sheet or other forms
  • producers of non-ferrous metals
  • miners and refiners of metals, such as aluminium and copper
  • copper manufacturers who produce semi-finished products such as wire and sheet, as well as finished products
  • specialist producers of precious metals, such as gold and silver
  • foundries producing iron and steel castings
  • foundries producing non-ferrous castings such as aluminium alloys, copper-based alloys and zinc alloys
  • energy suppliers
  • the Ministry of Defence (MoD)
  • specialist consultancies or suppliers in areas such as precious metals, powder coatings or composite materials of metal and ceramics.

Iron and steel production is concentrated in a few principal producing sites in the UK and the rest of the world. This is because it requires a huge amount of capital and infrastructure, such as rail transportation, to produce and distribute it.

Manufacturers of goods using steel, and those using non-ferrous metal products are located throughout the UK and overseas. Non-ferrous ores are mined and processed throughout the world.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

The majority of training is provided in-house by employers and some may offer graduate training schemes.

A mentoring system is also usually available to allow you to access the advice and professional support of more senior engineers who will regularly review your progress against agreed objectives and specific training plans.

Professional graduate membership is available with the IOM3 if you have a degree in a related subject and two years' relevant work experience after graduation. This gives you access to resources, events, competitions and awards, as well as a mentoring scheme for professional qualifications.

You may decide to work towards gaining professional status at either incorporated engineer (IEng) or chartered engineer (CEng) level. Both are internationally recognised qualifications awarded by the Engineering Council, and to gain this professional status you'll need to be a member of a relevant body such as the IOM3 or ICorr.

Gaining professional status will give you a higher earning potential and improved career prospects. The process is more straightforward if you have accredited qualifications. Find out more at Engineering Council - Professional Registration.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged and you need to keep up to date with technological advances and developments in your field. This may involve attending conferences, events and external training courses.

Equipment suppliers often deliver training on specialised equipment. This may take the form of:

  • a refresher course
  • a course for new employees
  • courses to train in system upgrades.

Career prospects

If you remain in industry and want to stay in the technical side, you may progress to senior management positions where a high level of technical competence is expected.

It's also possible to specialise in a particular area of metallurgy, such as stainless steel, non-ferrous alloys or precious metals, or in a particular industrial sector, such as:

  • defence
  • energy
  • transport.

If you'd prefer to move into a different role and have a good technical background with excellent communication, numerical and analytical ability, you could work in production management. Opportunities also exist in non-technical fields, such as:

  • product and business development
  • quality assurance
  • sales and commercial work
  • supplier and customer liaison.

You'll often work in multidisciplinary teams alongside other materials scientists in ceramics, glass and polymers. Opportunities may therefore also exist with employers in these areas.

Moving into research roles is also a possibility and opportunities exist in private sector industrial firms, academic laboratories, contract research laboratories and government laboratories, such as the:

With substantial experience, it's possible to find work as an independent consultant, contracting your services to larger organisations.