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Like other materials engineers, ceramics engineers work toward the development of new products. They use their scientific knowledge to anticipate new applications for existing products.
Ceramics research engineers conduct experiments and perform other research. They study the chemical properties (such as sodium content) and physical properties (such as strength) of materials as they develop the ideal mix of elements for each product's application. Many research engineers are fascinated by the chemical, optical, and thermal interactions of the oxides that make up many ceramic materials.
Ceramics design engineers take the information culled by the researchers and further develop products to be manufactured. In addition to working on the new products, these engineers may need to design new equipment or processes for manufacturing. Examples of such equipment include grinders, milling machines, sieves, presses, and drying machines.
Ceramics test engineers test sample products, or they might be involved in ordering raw materials and making sure the quality meets the industry standards. Other ceramics engineers are involved in more hands-on work, such as grinding raw materials and firing products. Maintaining proper color, surface finish, texture, strength, and uniformity are additional tasks of the ceramics engineer.
Beyond research, design, testing, and manufacturing, there are the ceramics product sales engineers. The industry depends on these people to anticipate customers' needs and report back to researchers and test engineers on new applications.
Ceramics engineers often specialize in an area that is associated with selected products. For example, a ceramics engineer working in the area of glass may be involved in the production of sheet or window glass, bottles, fiberglass, tableware, fiber optics, or electronic equipment parts. Another engineer may specialize in whitewares, which involves production of pottery, china, wall tile, plumbing fixtures, electrical insulators, and spark plugs. In addition, specific ceramics engineers specialize in the manufacture of other ceramic materials and goods such as brick, glassware, turbines, rotors, and containers for hazardous waste.
Other segments of the industry—advanced, or technical, ceramic—employ a great number of specialized engineers. Workers may focus on engineered ceramics (for things such as engine components, cutting tools, and military armor), bioceramics (for products such as artificial teeth, bones, and joints), and electronic and magnetic ceramics (for products such as computer chips and memory disks).