Metallurgy is one of the oldest sciences that deals with metals and their application. The word metallurgy has a Greek origin: metallon (metal) and ourgia (working). Metallurgical engineering deals with the extraction of metals from their ores, purifying them and shaping them for practical use. This subject includes physical and chemical properties of metals, their atomic and crystalline structure, mineral beneficiation, and structure-property relationship.
Metallurgy has two major divisions: extractive or process metallurgy and physical or alloy metallurgy. The first involves extracting metals out from their ores and refining them. It includes a wide variety of specialised commercial processes such as mineral dressing, roasting, sintering, smelting, leaching, electrolysis, and amalgamation. Physical metallurgy is about adapting metals for their final use and improving their performance.
What do they do?
Metallurgical engineering is the science of extracting metals from ores, processing and readying them for various uses. According to Dr Siddhartha Das, professor, department of metallurgical and materials engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, “Traditional metallurgical engineering involves a) beneficiation (crushing and separating) of ores, b) extraction of metals from ores, c) processing of these metals to make alloys with desired properties for engineering applications d) giving them (alloys) useful/proper shape and size for engineering applications and e) evaluating their properties and to further improve upon them.”
The formal study of metallurgical engineering in India dates back to “1923, when Banaras Hindu University started a graduate programme,” says Dr S Prakash, scientist, National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur, which is under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). “The setting up of the first steel plant in India by JN Tata in 1907 had necessitated the study of metallurgical engineering in the country,” Dr Prakash adds.
The scope of metallurgical engineering is broad and it “overlaps many other faculties of science and technology, such as physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, mining, thermal science, etc,” points out Tanmay Bhattacharyya, a metallurgical engineer and researcher, product research group, R&D, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur. Prof Das agrees. “Young students believe that metallurgy means only extraction of metals. Actually, it is more of physics than chemistry.
Many great physicists, including Nobel laureates like the late Prof. John Bardeen (through his research) contributed immensely to this field.” According to Prof Das, many research instruments that are routinely used by metallurgists have evolved from physics laboratories. “If you love physics and chemistry, you will definitely love metallurgy,” he points out.
There are different branches of metallurgical engineering. “Broadly speaking, these are: mineral processing; extractive metallurgy; physical metallurgy; metal forming; casting; powder metallurgy; fuel refractory and furnaces, etc,” says Dr Prakash. “Subjects of material science such as nano-technology and bio-processing have increased the scope of metallurgical engineering,” he adds.
The demand for skilled metallurgical engineers is rising in the country. “India is going to produce 200 million tonnes of steel by 2020; therefore, the scope (of work) of a metallurgical engineer here is huge,” says Dr Prakash. Prof Das, who says there are adequate numbers of skilled metallurgical engineers in India, agrees. “The need for engineers is increasing because of the many steel plants and research and development laboratories coming up in India,” he says.
Many opportunities are being created today for the engineers. Apart from working in steel plants and the non-ferrous (aluminum, copper, zinc, etc) industry, they can work in research institutions like CSIR, regional research laboratories, in defence (production) and research or as faculty in IITs and other engineering colleges.
And as for the challenges - “reduction of energy consumption in metal production and developing green technologies, besides conserving scarce resources through waste utilisation,” are the major concerns of the industry, says Dr Prakash.
. Knowledge of experimental techniques, operational features of sophisticated instruments
. Analytical ability
. Be good at basic science (physics, chemistry, mathematics and geology)
. Ability to take prompt decisions
. Patience and capacity for work hard
How do I get there?
You should take up physics, chemistry and mathematics at the plus two level and clear the IIT-Joint Entrance Examination after Class XII. You have to then complete a four-year degree programme in metallurgical engineering, which is conducted by some IITs, NITs and other engineering colleges or a five- year dual degree — BTech and MTech together — offered by these IITs/engineering institutes. After graduation, you can go for postgraduation and then PhD/research.