Getting the Most Out of Structural Materials

By Mike Ahern, Director, Corporate & Professional Education

Like many new structural engineers, I graduated with a good understanding of elastic behavior and how to perform elastic analysis. I was also well-versed in factors of safety and conservative design. When I started my first job at a leading gas turbine engine manufacturer, I realized I had much more to learn.

StructureMaterials_210x163Since every ounce of extra weight in our engines meant one less ounce of payload for the aircraft, we had to get the most out of our materials. Further, the structural capacity of our hot-section parts might be limited by non-elastic behavior. On a personal level, this meant I did not have all the analytical skills I needed to excel in my career!What???

Like most of my colleagues, I immediately enrolled in a part-time Master’s degree program. The company’s generous reimbursement program made it affordable, and I was fortunate to find a top-notch program with hours to suit my work schedule (this was back in 1978). As I progressed in my degree program, I started to learn how to get more out of materials.

  • My graduate Elasticity course included elliptical coordinates to better understand analytical approaches around discontinuities (like cracks).
  • My Fracture Mechanics course taught understanding and analytical tools to address temperature-dependent brittle fracture behavior.
  • My Plates and Shells course delivered insights into analyzing very thin structures and the value of warping restraint.
  • My Plasticity and Creep Analysis courses provided understanding and analytical capability for plastic behavior and time-temperature plasticity like creep and stress-rupture.
  • My graduate Finite Element course provided tools to analyze complex shapes.

Looking back, this education gave me the understanding and tools to consider many more potential failure modes and to safely get the most out of 96124468materials. It made me a more capable engineer and a valuable employee. It led to increased pay and more opportunities.

Today, online programs make it even easier to find a part-time graduate program to advance your career; the challenge is pinpointing the one that is best for you.

If you would like to discuss how graduate education might help make you more capable, and valuable, please feel free to email, call, or find me on Twitter.


What challenges do you face as a mechanical engineer?  How did you overcome them? Comment below!

♥ Love this post? Subscribe to Catalyst.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *