Case Study: Materials Scientist - Dan

What do you do?

I'm a production manager, overseeing the repair and overhaul of parts for aeroplanes. I'm responsible for the day-to-day operations of my department.

The parts get damaged during use, so they need special welding and brazing techniques to repair them. We subject the parts to special tests that make sure they have been fixed and are strong enough. This is very important for aeroplane parts.

I set departmental targets and then ensure they are met. In addition, I support the research and development, and the sales and marketing departments.

What is your background?

Even at school, I was interested in materials, for example, how a table or a building could hold a certain amount of weight without breaking. I studied materials science and engineering at university and loved it.

I was lucky to get a job straight after graduation, although having summer job experience played a large role in that. I learned how to run experiments, as I had been a project engineer. They recruited me because I had experience.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Problem solving is important, so you need to be analytical. Also, you must have good communication skills to speak to customers, suppliers and workers.

Sometimes, you need to be creative so you can find better ways to run a process. We're always looking for faster and less expensive ways to repair and overhaul parts, and solve technical problems.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

You could teach metallurgy or materials science at a university or be a general science teacher at a school or college. Many people in this field move into management positions in manufacturing organisations.

What changes will there be in the future?

I think the demand will stay about the same.

It's true that the demand for people working with traditional materials systems will decrease as technologies improve. However, people will be needed to put into practice the new technologies, so these two factors will balance each other out.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

We're expected to be constantly improving. If not, we will lose customers. It's a very competitive field. We're also always looking for ways to save time.

Sometimes, we have to design new repair processes, and that can be challenging. Overall, we try to create self-sustaining systems, which can be difficult.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

There are opportunities in lots of places, like mechanical, civil and electrical engineering.

What do you like about your job?

I like learning new things and then applying them at work. For example, I might read in a scientific journal about a new technique for welding blades on jet engines.

Then, I'd get the materials and high-tech equipment I need and try it out myself on the shop floor. That kind of thing keeps the job very interesting.

Also, it's a very international business. I have clients and suppliers from all over the world. I even went to Japan recently.

And, it's satisfying when you reach your production targets. Your clients are happy and so is your manager.

What do you dislike about your job?

Well, there is some boring paperwork associated with the job, like writing procedures. Those are the careful step-by-step instructions that I have to write every time we repair or test a new part.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

This job's all about asking, "why?". Why does my chair hold me up? Why are materials strong or weak? Why don't I fall through the floor? If you're interested in these things, then you're interested in materials science.

A day in the life

8:00 am - 9:00 am

Create and write a new procedure for welding aircraft loading gear.

9:00 am - 11:00 am

Solve problems on the shop floor. I'm called down to look at a problem. There's a crack in a welding job on a blade. I go down to investigate how it happened and suggest ways to prevent it happening again.

11:00 am - 11:30 am

Set up a new brazing or welding process. I pick out the alloys, cut them, then join the two materials or pieces together without melting them by using the alloy as filler material.

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Lunch.

1:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Meet, email or talk on the phone with customers or suppliers.

3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Review technical journals for new processes. This is leading edge stuff in aerospace and industrial materials engineering.

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