Chemical Engineering requires the knowledge of physics, chemistry and maths, in particular. 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 the case.
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 then requires the quantitative application of physics, chemistry and maths. The latter employing methods that mathematicians would not normally attempt or other engineering or scientific disciplines do.
For a new plant design, modifications to an existing plant or process, 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.
In addition, the profession requires a considerable amount of interaction and teamwork with other people and groups from within their own discipline and from other engineering departments (eg, mechanical, electrical, civil, research and development, safety, plant/operating personnel, etc). Periodically, depending on their roles in industry, it is likely they will have to deal with vendors, sales, government legislative bodies, clients, etc at some point in their career. A chemical engineer needs to be proactive and develop an organised and positive approach to get the job done successfully. A gregarious outlook is necessary or will need to be attained early on for a good outcome. Dedicated loners will struggle in the profession.
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 these but also with many other industries where physical and energy processes take place.
As 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, while process engineering is usually termed when working within the industries.
A recognised university degree in chemical engineering or equivalent is required, as a minimum, to start a career in this rewarding profession.