A ceramic engineer is an engineer who works with ceramic materials, or materials that are neither organic nor metallic. Such materials can be used in a variety of applications, including superconductors, artificial bones, lenses and many others. A ceramic engineer may attempt to use his knowledge of ceramics to develop new ceramic products or he may be responsible for finding more efficient and effective ways to produce ceramics. Ceramic materials often must be subjected to extensive processing before they are actually usable, so some engineers focus on developing better refining processes. Still other engineers approach ceramics from a chemical perspective and spend most of their time in chemistry laboratories.
One of the most basic roles of a ceramic engineer is using existing ceramic materials to develop new products. Glass, cement and brick are particularly common materials used in diverse engineering projects in fields such as civil and mechanical engineering. A ceramic engineer also may work in computer or electronic engineering, because many ceramic materials are common components in electronic and computer components. The engineer's job is to take advantage of the various properties of the materials available to make useful products. Ceramic engineers tend to specialize in ceramics but are often knowledgeable about other materials, as well.
In many cases, a ceramic engineer is responsible for optimizing the processes by which ceramics are produced instead of using them to design new products. The process of making most ceramic products contains many steps, and optimizing any one of them can increase the efficiency of the overall production process. In many cases, raw materials must be ground into a fine powder, mixed with other components according to a recipe, formed into a shape, carefully dried, and heated to high temperatures. Improvements to the process itself or to the components used can cut down the cost and improve the efficiency of developing ceramic processes.
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A ceramic engineer may be engaged primarily in scientific research rather than product development or process refinement. He may, for instance, work in a chemistry lab with the goal of increasing the critical temperature of a superconducting ceramic or improving the durability of another substance. Other engineers can then use such findings to make better products.
It also is possible for a ceramic engineer primarily to be involved in the production of machinery used to make or refine ceramic products. In-depth knowledge of ceramics is necessary to make such machinery, so a ceramic engineer is an ideal candidate for such work. Ceramic engineers may be involved in the design of both products and the equipment used to produce them.