Chemical Engineering requires, in particular the knowledge of physics, chemistry and maths. Chemical engineers have the knowledge of these subjects in order to design, develop new or improve existing manufacturing processes and unit operations in the petrochemicals, chemicals, oil and gas and other related industries. Sometimes they are misunderstood as a type of chemist, which is not accurate.
Chemical engineers are concerned with the sizing, specification and operations of the plants and equipments in which matter is processed, either mechanically or otherwise, undergoes physical or chemical changes, including energy and phase changes.
Each stage of the plant is defined as a unit operation which requires the quantitative application of physics, chemistry and maths. The latter employing methods that mathematicians would not normally attempt or other engineering disciplines or chemists do.
For a new plant design, or modifications to an existing plant, propriety or in house programs are used extensively. Plant simulation programs are used widely for optimum results. Overall optimisation and “optioneering” of a plant is assessed frequently, to engineer the overall plant economically. However, a chemical engineer is still very much dependent on his knowledge and experience. He uses manual calculations for understanding and implementing results and cross checking design data with engineering principles to ascertain a sound outcome.
Plant control and operability is an area where chemical engineers play a key role. Importantly, they are responsible for the safety of personnel and plant operations and for maintaining the environment clean. Documents they produce are called Deliverables within the process design field.
Key areas of industry where chemical engineers work are: Chemicals, Fine Chemicals, Petrochemicals, Oil and Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Polymers, Water and Effluent, and Nuclear. They are not solely restricted to the these but also with many other industries where physical processes take place.
Because chemical engineering is largely involved with different processes, they are often defined as Process Engineers. The jury is still out on its exact title but suffice to say that chemical engineering is the established status quo definition of the profession with process engineering usually termed when working within the industries.