Process engineers design, develop, and optimize production processes, primarily in the manufacturing industry. The different types of process engineering jobs include process development, process improvement, and chemical processing. Process controls, process validation, and materials processing also can be included. In all these jobs, the process engineer is concerned with lowering production costs, maximizing production efficiency, and ensuring product quality.
New production processes are developed by process development engineers. The engineers identify, select, and test processes that manufacturing facilities are considering installing to improve production or to manufacture new products. The testing phase often includes pilot trials in which small-scale models of new processes are tried out before full-scale systems are installed.
Some process engineering jobs are devoted to improving existing production processes. Process improvement engineers monitor existing operations to ensure they are working optimally. They troubleshoot any problems and work to improve productivity, efficiency, and quality while lowering costs and reducing equipment downtime.
Chemical engineers who perform process engineering jobs are called chemical process engineers. They specialize in chemical engineering processes, such as distillation, combustion, and fluidization. Industrial facilities rely on these processes to produce and refine many different types of products, including chemicals, metals, minerals, plastics, and petroleum products.
Process control engineers manage the computerized electronic systems that control how processes operate. These systems turn processes on and off and optimize performance based on control variables, such as temperature and pressure. Engineers regularly evaluate the monitoring data collected by the control systems to ensure the processes are operating properly. Due to the highly computerized nature of this work, people working in these types of process engineering jobs typically have expertise both in engineering and computer science.
Industries that manufacture pharmaceuticals, foods, and medical supplies are required to show that their processes adhere to standards issued by regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, some industries have their own standards or guidelines that govern process performance. Process validation engineers monitor processes and the production of manufactured products that are covered by validation standards. They track the applicable standards and maintain documentation verifying that the standards are being met.
Materials process engineers work in industries that produce or modify materials, particularly metals and minerals. These engineers have expertise in materials science, which is the study of how materials behave when exposed to pressure, stress, temperature changes, and other conditions. Materials process engineering jobs typically involve the conversion of raw metals and minerals into finished products, such as circuit boards for computers.