A process engineer develops economical industrial processes to make the huge range of products on which modern society depends, including: food and drink; fuel; artificial fibres; pharmaceuticals; chemicals; plastics; toiletries; energy; and clean water.
Process engineers may work in small, medium and large businesses. The work is concerned with chemical and biochemical processes in which raw materials undergo change, and involves scaling up processes from the laboratory into the processing plant.
Responsibilities involve designing equipment, understanding the reactions taking place, installing control systems, and starting, running and upgrading the processes. Environmental protection and health and safety aspects are also significant concerns.
Typical work activities
Work is project-orientated and you may be working on a number of projects, all at various different stages, at any given time. Several process engineering companies act as consultancies.
Typical work activities include:
- Assessing processes for their relevance, and assessing the adequacy of engineering equipment;
- Reviewing existing data to see if more research and information need to be collated;
- Designing, installing and commissioning new production units, monitoring modifications and upgrades, and troubleshooting existing processes;
- Applying the principles of mass, momentum and heat transfer to process and equipment design, including conceptual, scheme and detail design;
- Conducting process development experiments to scale in a laboratory;
- Preparing reports, flow diagrams and charts;
- Assessing the availability of raw materials and the safety and environmental impact of the plant;
- Managing the cost and time constraints of projects;
- Selecting, managing and working with sub-contractors;
- Supporting the conversion of small-scale processes into commercially viable large-scale operations;
- Assuming responsibility for risk assessment, including hazard and operability (HAZOP) studies, for the health and safety of both company staff and the wider community;
- Working closely with chemical engineers to monitor and improve the efficiency, output and safety of a plant;
- Ensuring the process works at the optimum level, to the right rate and quality of output, in order to meet supply needs;
- Making observations and taking measurements directly, as well as collecting and interpreting data from the other technical and operating staff involved;
- Assuming responsibility for environmental monitoring and ongoing performance of processes and process plant;
- Ensuring that all aspects of an operation or process meet specified regulations;
- Working closely with other specialists, including: scientists responsible for the quality control of raw materials, intermediates and finished products; engineers responsible for plant maintenance; commercial colleagues on product specifications and production schedules; and the operating crew.