Chemical engineers are people who use their knowledge of chemistry in an industrial setting, to create new substances and products and improve the quality and production process of existing ones. They are primarily interested in finding efficient, economical ways to turn raw materials into high-quality finished goods. In addition to doing this, they're also often employed to design manufacturing facilities. The position is typically collaborative, with people in this job working together with product designers, marketers, and legal staff. A wide range of industries regularly introduce new products or improve existing ones, so a chemical engineer can often find jobs in industries ranging from aerospace to electronics, textile manufacturing, and environmental management.
Research and Development
People in this position often help research and develop new products. This includes studying how compounds react with different types of materials and working with product designers to make things that are sturdy, functional, and attractive. For instance, a textile company with a new type of synthetic fiber would likely hire a chemical engineer to identify and develop uses for it. He or she could tell the company what uses it's best suited for — that it works well for car upholstery but not stretch fabrics, for example — as well as advise them as to other potential uses, such as turning it into a powder and mixing it into plastic products to strengthen them. They can help prevent and troubleshoot technical problems that come up during product development.
Many manufacturing companies also hire chemical engineers to help design efficient manufacturing facilities. This includes coming up with the layout of factory floors, the creation of components and equipment, and the design of control measures to make sure that the facility safely handles materials and maintains the desired level of quality in its products. Additionally, a chemical engineer may help develop processes that manufacturing plants can use to operate in environmentally friendly manners.
A chemical engineer often works together with other people in the manufacturing process, including marketers and managers. He or she can help the advertising department understand the benefits of having a particular substance in a product, and can help create a product that positively reflects the goals of a company, which helps the sales end of the business because it increases brand awareness. Chemical engineers also collaborate with managers as well as legal teams to ensure that the materials used in the processing and finishing of end products comply with governmental and industry standards.
Education and Training
To become a chemical engineer, a person generally needs to have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry, chemical engineering, biomolecular engineering, or a similar field. Many people also get master's degrees in a specific area, such as plastics engineering or food science. In the US, licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) is encouraged, but not required. This requires a combination of an approved degree, work experience, and passing several exams.
The exact duties that chemical engineers carry out also largely depend on how much experience they have. Entry-level workers tend to carry out basic tasks, whereas those with much experience tend to assume roles with more responsibility and independence. Some manage teams of engineers themselves, while others propose and carry out research projects. Experienced chemical engineers may also do consulting work, or have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing what they want to work on.