The specific type of exploring that you might want to do depends on which aspect of metallurgy is most attractive to you. If production is most appealing, you might arrange for an individual or group visit to a foundry, steel mill, or other plant. Although part-time or summer job opportunities in such settings may be limited to menial tasks, this should not discourage you. Having worked at even the most menial job is often viewed by employers as a sign of interest and can be an advantage when applying for future work.
If you are interested in the laboratory or research side of metallurgy, consider visiting an industrial laboratory. Ideally, it would be a metallurgical or materials science laboratory, but a visit to a laboratory in a related industry would also be useful. Metallurgical laboratories are found in a wide variety of companies, including biomedical firms, automobile manufacturers, and aerospace plants. It may also be possible to visit a research lab at a university with a metallurgical engineering or materials science department. Through such visits, you could see what technicians actually do, observe the equipment they use, and perhaps speak with them about their jobs.
The conversion of rocky ore into finished metal products involves a variety of activities. After the ore has been mined and the metals extracted from it, the metals need to be further refined into purer forms and fashioned into usable shapes, such as rolls, slabs, ingots, or tubing. Throughout these processes technicians carry out laboratory and on-site testing to ensure proper production flow and to monitor the equipment's condition and the product's quality. Other technicians work in laboratories to test and develop new alloys, methods, or equipment to produce existing products. In the metallurgy industry, these activities fall into three areas—production, quality control, and research and development.
Modern techniques for metal production involve complex equipment and require trained personnel, such as metallurgical technicians. They may check production instruments, act as observers, calculate furnace charges, take samples for the production laboratory, and consult with the laboratory about the quality of heats (batches of material that have been through the smelting or refining process). In some settings, metallurgical technicians may help supervise production employees, including crews that operate the furnaces and other smelting equipment and the people who work the machinery that converts metal into industrial or commercial products.
Quality control, both of incoming materials and finished parts, is the responsibility of the metallurgical laboratory. Technicians there use a variety of testing equipment to determine structure, soundness, consistency, and other physical properties of metal materials and products. Among the tasks that they might be responsible for are photographing metal samples with a photomicroscope; examining samples with inspection equipment to detect internal fractures, impurities, and other defects; and testing samples in pressure devices, hot-acid baths, and other apparatuses to determine hardness, elasticity, toughness, and other metal properties.
In metallurgical and materials science research, technicians are part of a scientific research team. They work closely with materials and metallurgical engineers and often, depending on their level of expertise, perform some of the engineer's duties. They build and test a variety of furnaces to develop new production methods for existing metals and help develop new alloys. They conduct tests to determine heat and corrosion resistance, machinability, workability, and other qualities of newly developed alloys. Metallurgical technicians keep detailed and accurate records, maintain equipment, and monitor stocks and inventories.
These three general areas of activity are, of course, interrelated. They share many concerns and often require similar skills. As the following list of representative entry-level jobs makes clear, technicians employed in metallurgy will often find themselves involved in more than one of these general areas.
Metallurgical laboratory technicians set up equipment, gather and record test results, prepare and mount metal specimens, and polish specimens for microscopic study.
Metallographers study and photograph metal samples under microscopes and metallographs to determine grain structure and other properties and develop photographic techniques to make adequate photomicrographs. They prepare reports about the samples for metallurgical engineers.
Metallurgical observers take samples and record temperatures of molten metal or rolling-mill products in steel-plant operations.
Metallurgical research technicians help with research for production of metals, develop protective finishes, and develop new alloys to withstand specified conditions. They also build and operate special laboratory furnaces for specific needs.
Metallurgical sales technicians maintain inventories at sales facilities and draw up detailed specifications for alloys and metals from warehouses and metal-producing plants, using requirements established by the customer and the company's technical sales representatives.