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Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, physics, engineering and biology to find solutions to challenges involving things like materials manufacturing and food processing. A chemical engineer can find employment with variety of companies, and despite the differences in the actual job duties, the job titles are often similar. Chemical engineers may be called process engineers, blending engineers or research engineers, for example. However, a blending engineer at a plastics manufacturer has different duties than one at an oil refinery, for example, so it is beneficial to examine what chemical engineers do in various employment settings.
Typical Duties With All Employers
Chemical engineers share some duties, regardless of employer. They are normally responsible for developing procedures for the safe handling of chemicals and teaching those procedures to workers who handle the chemicals or work with equipment using the chemicals. They perform tests on purchased chemicals to ensure qualities meet specifications, and they also test what the company produces. They ensure that operations involving chemicals or by-products comply with regulations and laws regarding environmental hazards.
Duties at Manufacturing Facilities
Chemical engineers work for a variety of consumer goods manufacturers, including companies that make plastics, paper, electronics and clothing. Chemical engineers strive to improve production efficiency, which may require them to design new equipment or modify the layout of existing equipment. They also conduct or supervise research aimed at developing new products, improving existing products or finding new uses for the company's products. They may develop or upgrade automated systems to control, measure or blend chemicals that feed into the production line. In some plants, chemical engineers prepare production cost estimates or actual production reports.
Duties at Petroleum Processors
Energy production involves chemical engineers at a number of different levels. Chemical engineers test samples from drilling operations, occasionally traveling to the site to obtain the samples. They develop or improve methods of separating the components or refining crude oil, research the effectiveness of additives and develop methods of blending additives. Chemical engineers also research the impact such additives might have on consumers, workers and the environment.
Duties at Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
Chemical engineers at pharmaceutical manufacturers have the same duties as those of consumer goods manufacturers, but they have additional duties as well. Their focus is on developing new drugs or products to enhance the health of humans and animals. This typically involves considerable research into the effects chemicals or combinations of chemicals can have on patients. They compound chemicals, sometimes combining synthetic chemicals with natural ingredients. Some chemical engineers research methods to synthesize hormones or chemicals that healthy bodies produce on their own.
Duties in Academia
Some chemical engineers teach engineering students at universities and colleges. Depending on individual circumstances, such as education, experience and reputation, chemical engineering professors may assist with a research project affiliated with the school or devise their own project. They teach classes, counsel students, give lectures and grade papers. They may sponsor graduate students who are completing their theses or capstone projects.
- University of Minnesota Duluth: Careers in Chemical Engineering
- American Institution of Chemical Engineers, CEP Magazine: 2013 AIChE Salary Survey
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 -- Chemical Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Chemical Engineer
- O*Net Online: Summary Report for Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health
Jeffrey Joyner has had numerous articles published on the Internet covering a wide range of topics. He studied electrical engineering after a tour of duty in the military, then became a freelance computer programmer for several years before settling on a career as a writer.