A steel engineer engages in the research and development of construction materials, commercial products, industrial equipment, and other goods that are made from steel alloys. They design blueprints, run simulated computer programs, and build prototype materials. Most professionals are employed by manufacturing firms, fabrication companies, and materials science labs to design and build products. Some steel engineers, however, specialize in leading large civil engineering projects where steel is a major component of construction.
Steel engineers who specialize in fabricating materials and products often split their time between research and hands-on work. They study the properties of steel and various metal alloys, learning how they hold up to heat and pressure. Engineers use their knowledge to create products with highly desirable traits. They might build steel industrial machinery that is durable and heat-resistant or car or airplane parts that are lightweight and flexible.
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Construction firms and municipal government agencies often consult with a steel engineer when a new building, overpass, bridge, or another large structure needs to be built. The steel engineer relies on his or her extensive civil engineering experience to design large-scale blueprints. He or she employs computer-aided drafting software to create versatile 3-D models that can be put through simulated conditions. Once the engineer is confident in the design, it is normally presented to construction managers for approval.
A steel engineer may also be involved with the actual construction phase of a project. He or she might work with site supervisors to oversee certain aspects of the building process, ensuring that materials are erected, welded, and bolted appropriately. Once a structure is completed, the engineer performs a careful final inspection to make sure it is safe and sturdy.
The requirements to become a steel engineer can vary, but most workers hold at least bachelor's degrees and professional certification. An education in mechanical or chemical engineering is helpful for landing research and development jobs, while a civil engineering degree is desired in the construction industry. Professional engineer certification is necessary for most steel engineer positions, which entails gaining about four years of apprenticeship experience and passing a detailed exam.
As entry-level steel engineers gain experience, they usually have many opportunities for advancement. A skilled engineer might become a lead manager at a manufacturing plant or a site supervisor for a construction firm. With several years of experience in the field, an individual may have success opening his or her own business.