Education

A career in metallurgy

Thabo Mohlala

Coming from a poor background did not hold Markus Erwee back

Markus Erwee graduated from Die Hoërskool Pretoria-Wes in 2001. He enrolled for the degree BEng in Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Pretoria, followed by a BEng (Hons) degree in the same discipline. He worked for a few months as an engineer-in-training at ArcelorMittal Vanderbijlpark, after which he joined Industrial Metals and Minerals Research Institute at the University of Pretoria. Erwee now lectures pyrometallurgy, communication and process metallurgy and control in the department of materials science and metallurgical engineering, where he does research as well. He recently submitted his dissertation for his engineering master’s degree.

Tell us what metallurgy is all about.
Metallurgy is about the extraction of valuable minerals and metals from different ore bodies. South Africa has very rich reserves of platinum, chrome and iron, to mention a few, and the mining and metallurgical industry provides many jobs. Metallurgical engineering encompasses metallurgy and involves applying engineering knowledge to make the extraction of valuables from ores easier. A metallurgical engineer is responsible for developing and implementing processes that include extractive metallurgy (extraction), physical metallurgy (applying physics to materials to understand their fundamental properties such as forensic engineering, mechanical metallurgy, and forming processes), welding, engineering and corrosion. Metallurgical engineers also optimise and model processes.

Who or what influenced you to pursue it as a career?
I was fortunate to participate in a quiz at the university. Here I was introduced to the fundamentals of steelmaking and this sparked my interest.Computer models were used to simulate real processes and actual data was interpreted. Also, many companies offered bursaries for this field of study. Coming from a rather poor family background, where I was not exposed to these things, I seized the opportunity to study for a career in this field of engineering. Markus Erwee graduated from Die Hoërskool Pretoria-Wes in 2001. He enrolled for the degree BEng in Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Pretoria, followed by a BEng (Hons) degree in the same discipline. He worked for a few months as an engineer-in-training at ArcelorMittal Vanderbijlpark, after which he joined Industrial Metals and Minerals Research Institute at the University of Pretoria. Erwee now lectures pyrometallurgy, communication and process metallurgy and control in the department of materials science and metallurgical engineering, where he does research as well. He recently submitted his dissertation for his engineering master’s degree.

Tell us what metallurgy is all about.
Metallurgy is about the extraction of valuable minerals and metals from different ore bodies. South Africa has very rich reserves of platinum, chrome and iron, to mention a few, and the mining and metallurgical industry provides many jobs. Metallurgical engineering encompasses metallurgy and involves applying engineering knowledge to make the extraction of valuables from ores easier. A metallurgical engineer is responsible for developing and implementing processes that include extractive metallurgy (extraction), physical metallurgy (applying physics to materials to understand their fundamental properties such as forensic engineering, mechanical metallurgy, and forming processes), welding, engineering and corrosion. Metallurgical engineers also optimise and model processes.

Who or what influenced you to pursue it as a career?
I was fortunate to participate in a quiz at the university. Here I was introduced to the fundamentals of steelmaking and this sparked my interest. Computer models were used to simulate real processes and actual data was interpreted. Also, many companies offered bursaries for this field of study. Coming from a rather poor family background, where I was not exposed to these things, I seized the opportunity to study for a career in this field of engineering.

What subjects should learners take if they want to follow a career in metallurgy?
They should take science, mathematics and English.

What value does metallurgy add to humanity or the economy?
Without metallurgy, mining operations would have very little value. It is the upgrading and beneficiation of valuables that makes mining so profitable. All materials around you have been extracted, processed or produced by a metallurgical engineer.

What do you like the most about this career?
I like the diversity on a technical, economic and social scale.

What do you do when you are not working?
Read, hike and play the piano (a dream fulfilled by hard work in metallurgical engineering).

What are the job opportunities like in this field?
Opportunities are diverse. They range from becoming a plant engineer, plant manager, process engineer, design engineer, forensic engineer, business analyst and patent lawyer, to lecturing on the subject.

Which institutions offer studies in metallurgical engineering?
In South Africa, the department of materials science and metallurgical engineering is the only independent department dedicated to metallurgical engineering. Other universities offer metallurgical streams in other programmes.They should take science, mathematics and English.

What value does metallurgy add to humanity or the economy?
Without metallurgy, mining operations would have very little value. It is the upgrading and beneficiation of valuables that makes mining so profitable. All materials around you have been extracted, processed or produced by a metallurgical engineer.

What do you like the most about this career?
I like the diversity on a technical, economic and social scale.

What do you do when you are not working?
Read, hike and play the piano (a dream fulfilled by hard work in metallurgical engineering).

What are the job opportunities like in this field?
Opportunities are diverse. They range from becoming a plant engineer, plant manager, process engineer, design engineer, forensic engineer, business analyst and patent lawyer, to lecturing on the subject.

Which institutions offer studies in metallurgical engineering?
In South Africa, the department of materials science and metallurgical engineering is the only independent department dedicated to metallurgical engineering. Other universities offer metallurgical streams in other programmes.

Originally published in: The Teacher

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