Chemical Engineer Job Description - Tasks, Skills and Career
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Chemical Engineer Job Description
Chemical engineers are professionals who specialize in processes in which materials undergo chemical change. They typically work in industrial and manufacturing settings.
Let’s take a detailed look at what the job of a chemical engineer involves.
Chemical engineers are essentially involved in three main activities: optimizing existing chemical production processes, developing new materials and production processes and managing and monitoring chemical production processes (including all quality control, maintenance, safety and environmental activities).
One of the tasks chemical engineers are most frequently called upon to perform is process optimization, i.e. improving a production process (for example, polymerization, refining, the production of composite materials, dyeing and finishing, wastewater purification and treatment) and making it more efficient. Chemical engineers develop and implement process optimization solutions designed to meet a wide variety of production goals and objectives, e.g. reducing production emissions and waste, increasing the productivity of a system or enhancing the quality of a product.
Chemical engineers may also work with scientists, technicians and other engineers as part of an R&D team, contributing to research focused on the creation of innovative materials and processes. Chemical engineers working in research and development investigate the properties of substances and compounds, analyze chemical and physical processes and use their scientific skills and expertise to develop new technologies in a broad range of fields, including nanotechnology, polymer engineering, biomedical engineering and electronic engineering.
Chemical engineers engaged in R&D also perform chemical analyses, simulations, checks and tests with the aim of producing new, more resistant, lighter, more flexible, cheaper and more environmentally sustainable materials. They monitor, record and evaluate the results of research projects with a view to transitioning them to industrial production.
In some cases, the development and optimization of production processes may involve the implementation of smaller-scale pilot projects to test the economic feasibility and sustainability of solutions before they are adopted on a wider scale.
Another common area of responsibility is managing production processes in chemical plants. Chemical engineers oversee production, develop and implement quality control systems (e.g. for raw materials and finished products), prepare technical documentation, schedule maintenance activities for chemical process equipment and systems and coordinate the activities of work teams, in accordance with the applicable safety and environmental protection regulations.
As far as employment opportunities are concerned, many chemical engineers work in the chemical industry - for example in factories and plants producing rubber and plastics, paints and varnishes, construction materials and other chemical products, as well as in refineries and petrochemical facilities. Their skills and expertise are also highly sought after in the pharmaceuticals, food, textiles and power generation and distribution industries, as well as by companies in the engineering and fabrication and consumer goods sectors.
Chemical engineers also work in public and private research laboratories and for engineering consultancy firms, where they use their technical skills and expertise to evaluate the feasibility and potential risks of projects, develop cost and time estimates, and formulate and revise technical proposals.
Typically, chemical engineers work in teams with other professionals, such as engineers, scientists and technicians, or in coordination and leadership roles, organizing the activities of other workers.
Depending on the type of work done, the workplace of a chemical engineer may be a testing laboratory, a chemical production plant or an office. Often, job advertisements for chemical engineers
specifically request a willingness to travel - for example to visits sites and production plants both at home and abroad.
Chemical Engineer Responsibilities and Tasks
The tasks of a chemical engineer may vary according to the sector and the company. However, some of the common tasks performed by most chemical engineers include:
- Designing, developing and optimizing chemical production processes, from raw materials to finished product
- Working on research and development projects focused on new materials, chemical substances and production processes
- Carrying out chemical analyses
- Overseeing the operation of chemical production plants, including quality control
- Creating maintenance schedules for chemical plants
- Monitoring compliance with safety and risk prevention regulations for chemical production plants
- Providing technical consultancy services
How to Become a Chemical Engineer - Education and Requirements
To become a chemical engineer requires a degree in chemical engineering. University-level programs typically focus on scientific subjects such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, thermodynamics, material sciences and biochemistry. Post-graduate specializations (e.g. PhDs in chemical engineering or materials engineering) are also highly valued, especially in candidates for positions in research and development.
It is also very important for chemical engineers to be able to use chemistry and physics laboratory equipment, such as microscopes, spectrographs, and cromatographs, as well as computer software applications used for molecular modelling, simulating chemical reactions and managing chemical analyses.
Finally, another essential requirement for chemical engineers is a knowledge of the relevant safety regulations and chemical risk assessment principles, for example in relation to the handling of dangerous chemical substances.
Chemical Engineer Skills and Qualifications
Job vacancies for chemical engineers typically require the following skills and qualities:
- Knowledge of chemical reactions and processes
- Knowledge of design, installation and operation of chemical plants
- Ability to perform laboratory tests and analyses
- Ability to carry out modelling and simulation of chemical processes
- Ability to use laboratory equipment and chemistry software
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Strong interpersonal and communication skills
- Organizational and planning skills
- Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
The career opportunities and job prospects of a chemical engineer improve with experience. Starting from a junior position, chemical engineers may take on increasing responsibilities and eventually progress to a role as a senior chemical engineer.
For chemical engineers working in industrial settings, potential career development options include becoming a plant manager of a chemical or pharmaceutical plant (i.e. managing and overseeing production processes, process equipment and machinery, maintenance activities and plant workers and technicians).
In R&D environments, meanwhile, an experienced chemical engineer may become a project manager and coordinate the work of teams of engineers, scientists and technicians from all over the world.
There are a large number of potential areas of specialization for chemical engineers. These include working with a specific material (such as polymers and plastics, oil and natural gas, adhesives, paper, leather and textile fibres) or going into process engineering and focusing on ways of improving industrial processes (such as oxidation, polymerization, vulcanization and hydrogenation).
Thanks to their knowledge of chemistry and materials science, chemical engineers can also find work in a wide range of other fields connected with chemistry, including biotechnology, biomedical engineering and the environmental sector.
Top Reasons to Work as a Chemical Engineer
Chemical engineers are able to work with a vast range of chemical and industrial manufacturing processes (e.g. the production of chemical substances, gases, textile fibres, medicines, detergents, fuels, digital tools and devices, construction materials, food) that are subject to constant technological innovation.
From research laboratories right through to industrial manufacturing, there is no shortage of employment opportunities for chemical engineers. Contract terms and remuneration tend to reflect a candidate’s experience but, on the whole, salaries are very competitive.
Finally, chemical engineers involved in R&D enjoy excellent opportunities to build an international career and work with teams of professionals from all over the world.