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What Do Process Engineers Do?

Process engineers help turn chemical substances into useable products. Read on to get a process engineering definition, process engineer job description, and information on their typical responsibilities, education, and average salary.

What Is a Process Engineer?

Process engineering is a type of engineering that focuses on the industrial processes of chemical substances. A process engineer is a type of chemical engineer that specializes in particular chemical processes, such as oxidation or polymerization. Process engineering is similar to industrial engineering; many job duties overlap with each other. However, industrial engineering focuses more on how to make general production processes more efficient.

Career Title Process Engineer
Average Salary (2019)** $72,683
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 6% (for chemical engineers)
Skills Analytical, creativity, interpersonal, math, problem-solving
Work Environment Office, laboratory, industrial plant, refinery

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Does a Process Engineer Do?

Process engineers design and implement industrial manufacturing processes and equipment. They also plan and test methods of production and may sometimes be in charge of facility operations. They apply knowledge of chemistry, biology, math, and physics to conduct research and create processes that can turn raw materials into finished products. This typically involves changing one type of chemical substance into another or combining chemicals to achieve an end result. These finished products can include electronics, food and beverage, clothing, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and paper.

This type of engineer needs strong analytical, math, and problem-solving skills to conduct and analyze research, perform tests and identify and troubleshoot problems. They also need to be creative to think of new ways to use materials and design equipment. Lastly, they should have great interpersonal skills to work with team members and other professionals involved in the design and implementation stages.

The work environment for process engineers is typically an office or laboratory. Sometimes they may work in or travel to industrial plants or refineries to monitor operations and solve problems. Due to the involvement of hazardous chemicals, the work can be dangerous, but process engineers should know how to safely handle them. Safety protocols are also regularly enforced. Process engineers usually work full time but they may have extended hours on occasion in order to meet project requirements.

Process Engineer Responsibilities

Process engineering may start in a laboratory and end in an industrial plant with many different employees working on the same project. Process engineers have a number of responsibilities to see a plan through from start to finish. Some of them include:

  • Establish safety procedures, especially with dangerous chemicals
  • Evaluate processes and equipment to comply with environmental and safety regulations
  • Estimate the cost of production
  • Use controlled chemical processes to separate liquid and gas components
  • Design and plan equipment layout

Process Engineer Education

Process engineers need a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or a related field. Students take courses in biology, math, physics, and chemistry. Engineering programs usually integrate class time with laboratory work and field studies. An ABET-accredited engineering program can give aspiring process engineers the required knowledge, skills, and experience for the design, analysis, and control of chemical processes.

Process Engineer Salary

PayScale.com reports that as of November 2019, process engineers have an average salary of $72,683. However, the average salary can vary depending on experience level and location.

According to PayScale.com, entry-level process engineers with less than one year of experience have an average salary of $64,889. Process engineers in the middle of their career, usually with 5-9 years of experience, have an average salary of $81,679. Lastly, experienced process engineers, usually with 10-19 years of experience, have an average salary of $87,521.