Materials Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Materials technicians work with metals, alloys, ceramics, polymers, plastics, rubber, glass and composites. They operate across a diverse range of industries, combining or modifying materials in order to improve the performance, safety and cost effectiveness of the processes and products being used. Their work may involve:

  • Checking that the materials being used in products have the right properties, such as flexibility, elasticity and strength, to ensure that the product is safe, reliable and efficient.
  • Investigating how material used in production behaves under different conditions, such as heating or cooling, and considering factors such as cost effectiveness and impact on the environment.
  • Improving existing products, such as creating more efficient artificial hip and knee joints, or sports equipment that gives sports people a competitive advantage.
  • The design of an entirely new product.
  • Making a production process more efficient.
  • Testing components that have failed or broken while the product was in use, to find out why the fault occurred and find ways of preventing it from happening in the future.

Materials technicians use a range of specialist equipment, such as materials testing machines, force measurement instruments, polymer test equipment, texture analysers and powerful microscopes. Some processes involve the use of chemicals. They use computers to store and analyse the data collected from their research and produce written reports on their findings.

Materials technicians work in teams with materials scientists, designers, materials engineers and non-destructive testing (NDT) technicians. They may work in laboratories testing chemical properties or in factories manufacturing or testing engineering parts. Some will work outside, investigating construction problems on- site or accidents involving suspected component failures, such as train derailments or air disasters.

Normal working hours are usually between 35 and 40 hours a week. Overtime, possibly including weekend working, is sometimes required at busy times.

Materials technicians are usually based in offices, laboratories or factories. They may test materials in a range of locations, often on-site in places such as oil rigs, shipyards, production lines or vehicle workshops.

Laboratories are usually clean and well lit, but on-site conditions could be cold, wet, hot or dusty and may involve working in high or confined spaces. Some tasks involve bending, lifting and carrying. Some tests can create dirt and noise, but safety equipment is used for protection.

Safety clothing could range from rubber gloves, ear plugs and eye protection, to a hard hat and safety boots, depending on the work being undertaken.

Starting salaries may be around £17,000 a year. With experience this may rise to £26,000 a year.

Education and Training

Many materials technicians enter with A levels, BTEC National Certificates or diplomas in subjects such as engineering or materials engineering. Applicants for these courses usually need four GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and science or technology, or equivalent qualifications.

The Diplomas in engineering, manufacturing and product design, and construction and the built environment may be relevant for this area of work.

Some entrants are graduates. Degree subjects include materials engineering, materials science, materials technology, metallurgy, polymer science, aerospace engineering, biomaterials, and sports and materials science.

It is also possible to start work as a trainee technician after a full-time engineering course at college. Suitable courses include the BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in manufacturing engineering (fabrication and welding). It is also possible to move from general Engineering Technician status to work in the field of materials engineering or NDT after relevant training.

Many people enter this career by training with an employer on an Advanced Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training may combine on-the-job training with experienced colleagues, in-house training, day or block release and workplace assignments.

Apprentices work towards NVQ Level 3 and study for a qualification such as a BTEC National Certificate and Diploma in manufacturing engineering or a City & Guilds Certificate. The subjects studied depend on the employer's business. Relevant NVQ's include:

- Levels 1 and 2 in performing engineering operations
- Level 3 in engineering technical support
- Level 3 in non-destructive testing

On completion of training, technicians are encouraged to apply for Engineering Technician registration with the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Engineering Council UK and, if successful, gain EngTech letters after their name.

Some employers offer opportunities for sponsorship for a BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND), foundation degree or degree course.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A materials technician should:

  • Have research and scientific skills.
  • Have effective written and spoken communication skills.
  • Be computer literate and confident working with statistics and calculations.
  • Be able to produce written reports.
  • Be meticulous.
  • Have an eye for detail.
  • Be able to work alone or as part of a team.
  • Have normal colour vision for some types of testing.
  • Be able to follow health and safety requirements.

Your Long Term Prospects

Materials technicians with professional status (EngTech) may have a wider choice of career development options. Skilled, experienced materials technicians may be promoted to senior technician. By undertaking further study leading to a degree, materials technicians can progress to materials scientist or materials engineer posts.

There may also be opportunities to move into other areas of the employer's business, including purchasing, sales and management.

Get Further Information

British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT)
Tel: 01604 630124
Website: www.bindt.org

Engineering Council UK (ECUK)
Tel: 020 3206 0500
Website: www.engc.org.uk

Engineering UK
Tel: 020 3206 0400
Websites: www.engineeringuk.com
and www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3),
1 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5DB
Tel: 020 7451 7300
Website: www.iom3.org

Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
Tel: 01438 313311
Website: www.theiet.org

SEMTA
Tel: 01923 238441
Learning helpline 0800 282167
Website: www.semta.org.uk

UK Centre for Materials Education
Tel: 0151 794 5364
Websites: www.materials.ac.uk
and www.whystudymaterials.ac.uk

Women into Science, Engineering
and Construction (WISE)
Tel: 020 3206 0408
Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society
Tel: 01438 765506
Website: www.wes.org.uk

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