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What Does A Process/Chemical Engineer Do?

I received an inquiry from Aizuddin who is presently a first year Chemical Engineering student at University of New South Wales (UNSW) Australia. Like me before (when I was a student), he have vague idea on what a process/chemical engineer do. I'll try my best to explain about it. I hope if other process/chemical engineer reads this, you can also add up so we can have better idea on the job scope.

A very simple idea of process engineer from me: "Process engineer is a person involve in process engineering in a plant in a manufacturing industry."

Basically, process engineering is the type of engineering dealing with manufacturing. It determines the sequence of operations and the selection of tools required to manufacture a product.

Process engineering is closely associated with chemical engineering. Hence, a process engineer position is largely occupied by chemical engineers. They will oversee and manage the process.

According to Wikipedia, "Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of physical science (e.g. chemistry and physics), with mathematics, to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. As well as producing useful materials, chemical engineering is also concerned with pioneering valuable new materials and techniques; an important form of research and development. A person employed in this field is called a chemical engineer."

"Chemical engineering largely involves the design and maintenance of chemical processes for large-scale manufacture. Chemical engineers in this branch are usually employed under the title of process engineer. The development of the large-scale processes characteristic of industrialized economies is a feat of chemical engineering, not chemistry. Indeed, chemical engineers are responsible for the availability of the modern high-quality materials that are essential for running an industrial economy."

Another definition/concept of Process engineering according to Answers.com:

"A branch of engineering in which a process effects chemical and mechanical transformations of matter, conducted continuously or repeatedly on a substantial scale. Process engineering constitutes the specification, optimization, realization, and adjustment of the process applied to manufacture of bulk products or discrete products. Bulk products are those which are homogeneous throughout and uniform in properties, are in gaseous, liquid, or solid form, and are made in separate batches or continuously. Examples of bulk product processes include petroleum refining, municipal water purification, the manufacture of penicillin by fermentation or synthesis, the forming of paper from wood pulp, the separation and crystallization of various salts from brine, the production of liquid oxygen and nitrogen from air, the electrolytic beneficiation of aluminum, and the manufacture of paint, whiskey, plastic resin, and so on. Discrete products are those which are separate and individual, although they may be identical or very nearly so. Examples of discrete product processes include the casting, molding, forging, shaping, forming, joining, and surface finishing of the component piece parts of end products or of the end products themselves. Processes are chemical when one or more essential steps involve chemical reaction. Almost no chemical process occurs without many accompanying mechanical steps such as pumping and conveying, size reduction of particles, classification of particles and their separation from fluid streams, evaporation and distillation with attendant boiling and condensation, absorption, extraction, membrane separations, and mixing. See also Dialysis; Distillation; Evaporation; Extraction; Ion-selective membranes and electrodes; Mechanical classification; Mechanical separation techniques; Mixing; Optimization; Production engineering."

The above explanation from Answers.com can give a better picture on process engineering and can imply/provide better ideas on what a process engineer is expected to do.

Hmm....enough about the definitions I adopted from the internet. I'll try to explain it based on my experience and understanding, in simpler and practical terms.

Basically a process engineer will have to take care of the plant processes. This will include monitoring the process plant operating parameters such as temperature, pressure, level, vacuum etc. In addition to that, the plant utilities must also be monitored such as water, steam, LFO (liquid fuel oil), diesel, natural gas, air compressor and other chemical type utilities. He must ensure that operating process parameters and the utilities are kept within acceptable range (or continuously improving it). If not, trouble shooting must be carried out.

Besides that, equipments and instruments in a processing plant such as pumps, motors, fans, control valves, valves, etc should be maintained properly. Vital supporting equipments like cooling tower, heat exchanger, boiler, high pressure boiler, air compressor etc must be closely monitored as well. Some plants/factories will have their own utility engineer to take care of this. Some does not and will require the process engineer taking care of this as well. All these equipments require scheduled and regular maintenance to ensure plant running smoothly.

A process engineer should also be capable on paper work stuff. He must prepare various types of reports (daily, monthly, quarterly, annually....). He should also possess good communication skill (soft skill) because he definitely have to attend/conduct various meetings and communicate with his superiors (managers) and downline staffs (supervisors/operators).

There are still more to write about what a process engineer does. It's already late at night....I shall continue sharing about it in my next post. Wait for it....
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posted by zaki yamani @ 11:55 PM,


At Friday, July 06, 2007, Anonymous Zura said...

Don't forget another branch of chemical engineering job...as an academician. Although we need some industrial experience to give effective lectures, I am one of them that hasn't been to one. It's quite hard to teach about something you've never even see...but of course our expertise at the theories has to be excellent.

At Friday, July 06, 2007, Blogger Manal said...

Ye la zura...learning to excel as a student on chemical engineering (CE) core subjects and partaking the various design projects are a different set of challenges relative to a real engineer job. While a technician can actually be an engineer after a certain period of experience and having received a certain qualification during that time, a student has to have the brain and the right motivation to equip him/herself with acquiring the knowledge and understanding of each subject taught during the study years.

Zaki, you have done a good job in exposing the real chemical engineer tasks but a student still needs to work hard (and smart) on grasping as much knowledge and theories as possible to prepare him/her to the more rigorous engineer challenges. And sbb tu, the teaching syllabus gets to be more hands on once the student enters the 3rd and maybe 4th year of the CE course. They will also learn on using simulator tools like HYSYS, ASPEN and maybe matlab to complement the theories.

Even a simple unit remembering like kg/m3 should not be overlooked by any chemical engineering student. Their mathematical knowledge will be tested (segala tambah tolak bahagi kali , calculus, algebra stuff) beginning in the 1st year study lagi. Power of imagination pon very important to conceive the theories learned in the class.

The most important part is to enjoy those study years and embrace the challenges as the personal motivation to earn a good/excellent degree. After all, even Shell has already added PhD as one of the major qualifications to become an engineer.

At Friday, July 06, 2007, Blogger Webworm said...

Zaki and Zura have enlightened the Plant and Academic works...

Just don't forget that Chemical and process engineer also involve process plant design & engineering...

Secondly Chemical & Process engineer also involve in system and products research & development...

In additional to plant operation and monitoring, Chemical & Process engineers also involve in plant optimization / debottlenecking in order to minimise material & utilities consumption and increases productivity of existing plant...


At Friday, July 06, 2007, Blogger zaki said...

Wow!!! Thanks for all the comments...

@Zura honey: I don't forget about chemical engineering career as an academician. The subject is what a process engineer does....Later, I shall elaborate on that as well...

@Manal: What you stated there is certainly true. Thanks. I'm trying my best to share and provide more info to them. Perhaps, hopefully, student reading this blog has some awareness and better comprehension on what they'll be facing.

@Webworm : Yeah...agreed with you Huang. I have not cover that thing yet...I'm going to cover it later....

At Saturday, July 07, 2007, Blogger aijudanuar said...

Oh,that's the reason we have to learn about heat & mass transfer,thermodynamics and the lot in further stages of my degree.that makes perfect sense.Thanks!!

And are there chemical engineers employed to oversee the budget and expenditures involved for sustainable production?I mean,would a good background in economics and finance helps enhances one's skills as a chemical engineer?

At Sunday, July 08, 2007, Blogger zaki said...

@Aijudanuar : Off course a process engineer must know the costing in his production areas. He must try and reduce the cost where necessary via introduction or improvement of new/existing technology. I'll cover that in later post.

At Sunday, December 23, 2007, Anonymous jaja said...

Process engineer is to plan and implement process/utility-related activities aimed at maximising plant capacity, efficiency, and SAFETY. Also to perform feasibility studies and process engineering design for plant improvement in ensuring a flexible and economical operation.

don't forget safety part... safety is first priority to all employee in plant...that's one of process engineer crucial rule..

At Monday, April 07, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all in all...a process engineer can be a 'multipurpose engineer'...he/she should know other branch of engineering also in order to be a good process engineer...

At Saturday, July 11, 2009, Blogger rduht said...

if wow gold and maple story mesos wow gold


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The Author


I’m Zaki. I used to be a project, process and chemical engineer. Few years ago I successfully became a Chartered Engineer (IChemE) and Professional Engineer (BEM). I'm now employed as a chemical engineering educator/researcher/consultant. Hope you like reading my blog. I welcome any feedback from you. My email: zaki.yz[alias]gmail.com. TQ!

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