Chemical Process Engineer

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Chemical Process Engineer


It would be hard to imagine a world without gasoline, paper, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, plastics, synthetic fibers, paint, film or any other chemical products we use and demand in our daily lives. Whether it is bettering already existing products or creating new ones, we generally take these inventions of chemical process engineering for granted because we have grown up with many of them and for that very reason, they seem like they have always been around. Yet the work and discoveries made by chemical process engineers have had an overwhelming impact on all of our lives.

Applying scientific and mathematical principles, chemical process engineers develop processes and design equipment to produce chemical changes in elements and compounds. Generally, they help run plants as they should be running. Using existing data, they create methods to design equipment and operating specifications for industrial plants. Cost, safety and environmental concerns are vital components of plant design and research.

Chemical process engineers are associated with the business side or managerial aspects of engineering. They make sure that a plant is functioning to its full capacity, generating as much profit as possible. The economics of a functioning plant will have major impact on inventory levels, which affect cash flow. Yet chemical process engineers also perform similar duties to chemical engineers. They are constantly putting their creativity to work, synthesizing new materials, transforming combinations of elements of matter and developing the processes on a large scale. They process and package many of the foods we eat, help power our cars and heat our homes and develop new materials from garbage. Chemical process engineers may oversee early "pilot" runs and often supervise plant construction and start-up. They usually work with a team of chemists, financial experts, technologists and other engineers because while scientists develop the products, the engineers create the processes required to produce them commercially.

They often meet with manufacturers, lawyers and clients to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables, such as safety. They create engineering plans on computers using computer-aided design (CAD) systems, which simulate realistic three-dimensional models and test and predict possible errors and problems with a mechanism, generating workable solutions. Although most work takes place on computers or in laboratories, chemical process engineers sometimes travel to meetings and factories to supervise and see their work in progress.

Chemical process engineers are required to constantly update their skills and knowledge in order to keep up with technological advancements in this quickly changing field.
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  Interests and Skills  
Chemical process engineers are analytical, creative and innovative thinkers with excellent problem solving skills. They have a natural affinity and aptitude for mathematics and science and can often visualize complex processes and design on computers. They possess excellent communication skills, both written and oral, and have the ability to work well in teams with people from various disciplines and backgrounds.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design, maintain and manage chemical, biochemical, pharmaceutical and materials processing plants
  • Design and operate quality and environmental control systems
  • Troubleshoot problems in industrial processing and manufacturing plants
  • Ensure efficient, safe and environmentally responsible plant operations
  • Supervise technologists, technicians and other engineers engaged in support activities
  • Choose the best instruments for measuring pressure, temperature, flow rate and composition
  • Advise management regarding the layout of industrial plants and the installation and sizing of equipment
  • Determine the most effective processes for commercial production
  • Conduct economic evaluations of projects to find the most cost-effective options
  • Design and develop new and better processes and equipment for converting raw materials into products using computers to simulate, model and control such processes
  • A typical day for a chemical process engineer will take place in an office, yet there will be days on location in industrial plants or laboratory environments. They usually work standard workweeks, unless a deadline must be met or an emergency occurs, requiring the expertise of the chemical process engineer. Engineers who work in production may come in contact with hazardous machinery and chemicals on a regular basis, or be required to climb process equipment up to ten stories high. Therefore, they are usually in good shape.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most chemical process engineers work in businesses known collectively as the Chemical Process Industries (CPI), which include the chemical, oil and gas, food and beverage, textile and agricultural chemical industries, to name a few. They work alongside scientists, mathematicians, technicians and administrators.
  • Chemical process engineers generally work wherever there is a process of chemical conversion, for example in pulp and paper manufacturing, petroleum refining and oil sands extraction. Some are employed by instrumentation and control companies, engineering design companies, pharmaceutical companies, construction companies, biotechnology firms and environmental companies and agencies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a chemical process engineer is quite boundless. Since the field of chemical engineering is expanding, there will be many jobs in the technological areas such as biomedicine, genetic engineering and other biotechnologies. Engineers can move to production management positions and supervise junior engineers. Some become scientists or concentrate their work entirely on research and development. Other chemical process engineers could use their skills and pursue careers in law, publishing, education or medicine. Eventually, some become chief executive officers (CEO) or heads of other organizations.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics, business and chemistry. Most university and college programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Chemical process engineers require a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or in a related engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as genetic engineering or an MBA.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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