Careers in Composites
Having a job in the composites industry doesn't necessarily mean you'll spend all of your time laying up fiberglass. If you want to work with composites, you have a choice of industries and positions to choose from.
Many companies require composites expertise. For some specific examples, see the listings on the Employers page.
Manufacturers build structures or components out of composite materials. Often the products are built for outside customers, but in some cases they also sell their own products. Some companies offer only manufacturing services (i.e. build to print); many also offer design and engineering services.
Raw materials such as fibers and polymers are manufactured by a limited number of materials companies. A larger number of companies formulate polymers into resin systems and prepreg resins with fibers. Composites are either sold directly to end users, or they are sold through distribution companies.
Many companies use composites in their products, but they would not be considered a composites company. For example, aerospace companies use composites in aircraft, spacecraft, and launch vehicles, but their primary business isn't composites. Other products include sporting goods, boats, and medical equipment.
A lot of composites research and development is performed in universities. Various departments are involved in composites research, including mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, materials science, and civil engineering. Many universities have interdisciplinary labs that specialize in composites.
- Government and military labs
- Equipment manufacturers (winders, autoclaves, etc.)
- Technical publishers
Within each of these industries or organizations, there are many different types of jobs. I've divided the jobs into several broad categories; the categories cross many of the industries listed above.
Engineers apply technology to build things. When it comes to building composites, just about all engineering disciplines can be involved. Specific engineering tasks include stress analysis, structural design, materials processing, control systems, industrial processes, testing, and more. Engineers must have an undergraduate degree, and many have Masters degrees. Doctorates are less common.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, scientists develop the technologies that engineers apply. In general, then, they are more involved in basic research such as materials development and structural theory. Of course, many engineers perform research, and many scientists work on engineering applications. Most scientists have Doctorates; fewer stop at a Masters or Bachelors.
At the risk of oversimplifying again, technicians are the people who do most of the hands-on work. They lay up the composites, do the machining, and produce the drawings. Technicians develop highly specialized skills, most of which are learned on the job. A vocational background or an associates degree is common.
University faculty members can be either engineers or scientists, and they almost exclusively hold Doctoral degrees. In contrast to industry engineers, university professors in engineering departments focus more on research than on manufacture of a specific product. The research, however, might be oriented towards industry interests such as manufacturing processes.
Any company needs staff for management, business development, sales, quality assurance, scheduling, and other tasks which are not directly technical. Some of these positions require detailed technical knowledge, and they are often filled by former engineers or technicians. Even though engineers might have advanced degrees, some business courses or even an MBA will help the transition into management.Previous Features