Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology and maths in the production of such products as pharmaceuticals or food.
What does a Chemical Engineer do?
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and maths to solve problems in the production or use of chemicals, fuel, pharmaceuticals, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating by-products, and supervise production.
As a chemical engineer you may be involved in the design, manufacture and operation of processes that turn raw materials into domestic and industrial products, for example in food manufacturing, gas production and refining of minerals. You may also be involved in the research and development of new or improved products.
In manufacturing, you would:
- work with plant designers to create equipment and control instruments for the production process
- help to oversee the day-to-day operation of the processing plant
- monitor production and deal with problems
- work closely with quality control and health and safety managers.
If you work in research and development, you would:
- test new ways to develop products in the lab
- use computer models to work out the safest and most cost-effective production methods
- plan how to move lab tests into a pilot production phase, then on to large-scale industrial processing
- develop methods to deal with by-products and waste materials in a safe way.
You could also work in biochemical engineering which is a developing branch of chemical engineering. Biochemical engineers develop anything from new medicines such as vaccines and stem cell therapies to sources of sustainable energy like biofuels.
Depending on the size of your employer, you may only be responsible for the research or the manufacturing side. You could also be managing a team of chemical engineering technicians.
Key skills and interests
To become a chemical engineer, you would need:
- maths and science skills, particularly chemistry
- good problem-solving and analytical skills
- planning and organisational ability
- excellent IT skills
- the ability to manage projects, budgets and people
- good spoken and written communication skills.
Working hours and conditions
In research and development you would usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. You may need to work overtime to meet project deadlines. In processing and manufacturing, you might work on a shift system, including weekends, evenings and nights.
You could be based in a lab, an office or a processing plant. In some environments you may need to wear protective clothing or use safety equipment.
How to become an Chemical Engineer?
Entry Level Education
To become a chemical engineer you usually have to complete an engineering degree at university with a major in chemical engineering or industrial chemistry. Alternatively, you can complete a relevant degree, followed by a postgraduate qualification in chemical engineering.
To get into the degree courses you usually need to gain your senior secondary school certificate or equivalent. English, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics would be appropriate subjects to study prior to university.
Graduates may be eligible for membership of Engineers Australia or the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) in Australia.
Employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow slower than the average for all occupations.
Many chemical engineers work in industries that have output sought by many manufacturing firms. For instance, they work for firms that manufacture plastic resins, used to increase fuel efficiency in cars. In addition, chemical engineering is also migrating into new fields, such as nanotechnology, alternative energies, and biotechnology, which will help to sustain demand for engineering services in many manufacturing industries.
However, overall growth of employment will be tempered by a decline in employment in manufacturing sectors, including chemical manufacturing.