Plant Engineer

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Plant Engineer


Plant engineers are responsible for a great deal industrial and technological advances in our society. They create systems and plants that enable people and society to be more productive, efficient and effective while using basic resources -- machines, materials, money and time. They ensure that equipment in a plant is operating safely and that the desired quantity and quality of product is produced. Plant engineers plan, design, improve, implement and control systems that represent the way people use technology and search for ways to use energy more efficiently while reducing waste. They also determine which plant location has the best combination of raw materials and transportation facilities.

Plant engineers help companies with financial efficiency matters. They will perform a cost analysis on a specific project, such as installing a certain wiring system in a plant and then study the potential effects this will have on employees. Plant engineers often have training in mechanical, civil, electrical and chemical engineering before specializing in the industrial plant area. Since they can work in a number of industries, their daily tasks may vary. Nonetheless, plant engineers are all involved in designing systems and solving problems in creative and innovative ways. They communicate their ideas to other engineers, scientists, managers and clients and physically implement these solutions. Some experts say that plant engineering is the least technical of all engineering fields because they deal with management and clients all the time.

A great deal of the career deals with studying human behavior and human tendencies. When designing the layout of a production line for a steel plant or a pulp and paper plant, the industrial plant engineer must consider the physical requirements, cost parameters and the physiological and behavioral performance of the human operators. They must consider these factors to generate an efficiency and profit report for a company. The plant engineer therefore has a dual role; to evaluate human capability as a factor in optimal operation, management and control of the overall production system and to ensure the safety and well being of those working in the system.

Plant 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  
Plant engineers should have a natural curiosity about people and engineering systems and have a creative imagination when designing new practices. They must possess excellent communication skills because a majority of their job deals with people. Engineers should be able to visualize and predict the effects of change and love conducting research and analysis work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan how industrial systems and plant mechanisms will operate efficiently
  • Measure human work performance in relation to the industry
  • Establish organizational work standards and specifications
  • Ensure quality standards and analyze cost benefits
  • Enhance operations management within an organization
  • Interpret data, create organizational charts and use computers to design and model new production systems
  • Meet with managers, accountants and other professional engineers
  • Since this engineering discipline is so varied in its applications, working conditions will vary. Most plant engineers split up their time between the office and on-site at manufacturing plants. Some plant engineers spend most of their working day observing production, asking questions and watching how work is done. Others work primarily in an office environment, interpreting data, writing specifications and meeting with other engineers and technologists. Plant engineers usually work eight-hour days, however, longer hours may be required when deadlines are looming. There may also be extended travel periods required for international projects.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Plant engineers were once only associated with manufacturing plants however, today they work in a variety of industrial areas. Examples of such organizations are consulting firms, financial institutions, government institutions, health care institutions, manufacturing and industrial plants, transportation companies and universities and colleges.
  • Some plant engineers are self-employed and work as consultants on a freelance basis. This allows them the freedom to switch areas and industries and set their own hours and schedules.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Plant engineers may advance into senior management and other management positions and participate in the administrative side of running a plant, due to their interdisciplinary technical and business backgrounds. Those with PhDs can teach professionally at the postsecondary level. They could also move into any other related engineering disciplines and specialize in a new area such as the environment or a related field.

  Educational Paths  
Students wanting a career as a plant engineer should take mathematics and science while still in high school. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Plant engineers require a bachelor's degree in industrial plant engineering or in a general engineering field, such as manufacturing, mechanical or chemical engineering. 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 manufacturing engineering or a PhD so that they can teach at the postsecondary level.

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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