Polymer Technologist

The Job and What's Involved

Polymer technologists work in the manufacture of products made from polymers. The polymer group of materials is made up of plastics, rubber, adhesives, resins and fibres. Polymers have special properties that make them useful in the manufacture of a variety of products. The three main groups of materials are:

  • Plastics, such as those used in mass-produced toys, casings for mobile phones or medical devices for use as internal or external body parts.
  • Rubber, such as that used in tyres, wetsuits, hoses and industrial pumps.
  • Composites, such as those used for racing car bodies, aircraft wings and security doors.

Composites manufacturing is particularly important, as there is currently a growth in using polymers to replace traditional materials, such as metal, in the manufacturing process.

Polymer technologists are involved in the design and development of new materials, technology and manufacturing processes that use polymers. They have particular responsibility for developing the moulds used to form the material during manufacture. It is a job that requires specialist skills, as the slightest imperfection may ruin a product.

The work includes:

  • Designing products to ensure maximum strength and an aesthetic shape.
  • Deciding which materials to use from the large range of available polymers.
  • Designing the mould and ensuring it functions effectively.
  • Selecting the appropriate processing method for each product.

Polymer technologists work in a variety of ways, often in a team with other engineers and technicians. They may:

  • Work in a laboratory, performing tests and experiments to determine the structure and properties of materials or products.
  • Work with customers, designers and suppliers to ensure that new products can be made and manufactured in a cost-effective manner.
  • Investigate new methods and materials to improve the quality of existing products.
  • Research new materials and compile reports for customers.
  • Work in an organisation that formulates and manufactures the raw material.

Polymer technologists normally work 35 to 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Overtime may sometimes be required in order to meet deadlines.

Technologists may work in a variety of environments. These might include offices, laboratories and factories. They may have to travel, possibly abroad, as part of the job.

When working in laboratories and factories, technologists usually wear overalls and protective clothing.

Starting salaries may be around £14,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 14,000 companies are involved in polymer processing, employing around 280,000 people in the UK. The majority of businesses are small, employing fewer than ten people. They might be involved in making electrical switches and light fittings. The larger companies may make a variety of goods, such as packaging components for food, liquids, and fragile components and products.

Polymer science is a growth area, with a shortage of qualified staff. It is likely that new companies will continue to develop across the UK as new uses are found for plastic, rubber and composite materials in the home, industry and medical professions.

Jobs may be advertised in the local press, at Jobcentre Plus offices (www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk) and in the magazine Plastics and Rubber Weekly (www.prw.com). Opportunities may also be found on the websites of manufacturing companies and agencies specialising in industrial recruitment.

Education and Training

The minimum entry qualification for a polymer technologist is normally a BTEC HNC/HND in manufacturing engineering or polymer processing and materials technology. In practice, the bulk of entrants have a first degree in a related subject, such as materials engineering, materials science, materials technology or polymer science.

For a degree course, applicants need at least five GCSE's (A*-C) and two or three A levels, normally including maths and chemistry or physics. Design technology or other vocational A levels may be helpful. The Diploma in manufacturing and product design (available from September 2009) may be relevant for this area of work.

It may be possible to study a postgraduate course in materials engineering or polymer technology after completing a broader first degree in engineering or science.

Graduate programme's in engineering may be available. These combine study at degree or diploma level with structured work-based learning. Graduate trainees are paid by their employers, either as full-time employees (for those who have already graduated) or for the periods spent in the workplace (for those who are on sandwich courses or work experience).

The variety of skills and qualities required to be a polymer technologist means that entrants with relevant experience are welcomed. For those already working in the area, part-time study towards a relevant HND may be a possibility. At some universities, applicants without the necessary background in science and maths may be offered a one-year foundation course to prepare for the degree.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Polymer technologists who have studied a degree in a relevant subject will have received training as part of their course.

Several universities in the UK have polymer processing equipment, enabling students to experience small-scale production and giving them hands-on experience of manufacturing with polymers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Polymer technologists should:

  • Have a high level of numeracy skills.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Have good IT skills.
  • Have analytical and diagnostic skills.
  • Be able to use computer aided design (CAD).
  • Know about the properties, characteristics and processing behaviour of materials.
  • Know about different manufacturing processes and construction methods.
  • Have strong teamworking skills and the ability to lead a team.
  • Be able to find practical and innovative solutions to problems.
  • Have initiative and be able to identify opportunities for new product applications.
  • Be able to supervise other people.

Your Long Term Prospects

As polymer science is a growing industry, there are good prospects for promotion. A qualified technologist may progress to work as a senior sales engineer, an equipment development engineer, a product design engineer, a quality manager or a senior project manager.

Get Further Information

British Plastics Federation,
5-6 Bath Place, Rivington Street,
London EC2A 3JE
Tel: 020 7457 5000
Website: www.bpf.co.uk

The British Rubber and Polyurethane
Products Association, 5-6 Bath Place,
Rivington Street, London EC2A 3JE
Tel: 020 7457 5040
Website: www.brppa.co.uk

Composites UK,
Tapton Park Innovation Centre,
Brimington Road, Chesterfield S41 0TZ
Tel: 01246 541918
Website: www.composites-proc-assoc.co.uk

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

National Skills Academy Process Industries,
University of Teesside, Borough Road,
Middlesbrough TS1 3BA
Tel: 01642 738200
Website: www.process.nsacademy.co.uk

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