What is Process Engineering and What Do Process Engineers Do? (PDF)

The term “process” can be defined simply as a way to make a product from raw materials. The process engineer’s job is to select process steps for product manufacturing and the required specifications. There will be several processes to make the same product. The best way to manufacture a product has not yet been discovered and it cannot be said that the product can be manufactured in one way only. Process engineers are facing alternative solutions to a production problem. 

This possibility arises from a combination of factors such as information, imagination, knowledge, and experience obtained from past processes. However, the economics of production is the key to finding the most optimized process. Therefore, innovation, Ideas, and cost-effectiveness are key elements of process engineering.

What is Process Engineering?

Process engineering is the understanding and application of the basic principles and laws of nature that enable humans to transform raw materials and energy into products useful to society on an industrial scale.  By taking advantage of natural forces such as pressure, temperature, concentration gradients, and the law of conservation of mass, process engineers can develop methods to synthesize and purify desired chemical products in large quantities. Process engineering deals with the design, operation, control, optimization, and enhancement of chemical, physical and biological processes.

What is the key difference between chemical engineering and Process Engineering?

For all practical purposes it makes no difference, process engineers are often chemical engineers. 

A chemical engineer does not have to be a process engineer, but can be a project engineer or project manager.

A process engineer in the E&C business is a chemical engineer who practices chemical engineering, designs processes, and performs unit operations in the petroleum refining, petrochemical, food processing, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and gas processing industries.

Skills required by a Process Engineer

A good process engineer should have the following capabilities:

  • Technical drawing interpretation
  • Good analytical and mathematical ability. 
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills 
  • Ability to change existing practices. 
  • Strong attention to detail. 
  • Solid ability to identify, assess and solve problems. 
  • Good Software knowledge
  • Commercial awareness

What Does a Process Engineer Do?

Process engineers perform calculations, analyze results, and create designs within safety and control parameters to achieve the desired product. A process engineer’s job begins with a block diagram that consists of the major operations involved. As the design progresses, block diagrams are transformed into process flow diagrams showing key controls and required process parameters, and finally, detailed drawings called Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs). The P&ID represents all control layouts and piping layouts for the various unit operations involved in the process.

A unit operation is a piece of machinery that is also indicated by a P&ID along with details such as sizing, process data, and operating parameters. This P&ID will continue to serve as a guideline for developing process and functional specifications. In basic engineering, the process engineer plays a key role, in initiating and establishing the process flow based on the specifications received from the customer and working on the created design layout.

Some of the other responsibilities of a process engineer can be listed as follows:

  • Design and development of the complete process using simulation software packages.
  • Developing P&IDs, PFDs, Line Parameters, Equipment Sizing, Line Sizing, etc for further activities.
  • Facilitating HAZOP, HAZID requirements, etc
  • Performing regular tests of existing equipment.
  • Commissioning and decommissioning of a plant or part of a plant.
  • Monitoring and Maintaining equipment.
  • Designing new equipment.
  • Researching, pricing, and assisting in the equipment purchase of new equipment
  • Redesigning/Improving the flow of the process in the factory or plant
  • Overseeing processes to guarantee efficient performance of the line to maximize output with minimum defects in the production line.
  • Overseeing the operations of the plant
  • Overseeing the safety of employees
  • Writing, maintaining, and collecting required paperwork to show compliance with safety protocols
  • Assisting in budgeting.
  • Verifying every detail of the production process to improve efficiency and productivity and cut costs.

Click here to learn the deliverables that a process engineer produces during the design phase of an EPC project.

Process Engineering Jobs

Process engineers are required in various industries. They usually got an opportunity to work in permanent or contract jobs. The majority of their jobs are in large and small factories, plants, and manufacturing facilities. Some of the industries where process engineers get jobs are:

  • Oil and Gas Industries.
  • Refinery, Chemical, and Petrochemical facilities.
  • Private process safety companies
  • Nuclear plants
  • Insurance firms
  • Companies that inspect chemical refineries
  • Water treatment facilities
  • Chemical manufacturers
  • Steel Industries
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Biochemical and biopharmaceutical Industries
  • Process Licensing
  • Mining Industries
  • Food and beverage manufacturers
  • Finance companies that fund chemical manufacturers
  • Environment-friendly and recycling groups
  • Offshore Industries
  • Process safety industries
  • Dairy industries
  • Cosmetics Industry
  • Mineral processing

Salary of a Process Engineer

The salary of a process engineer varies based on the education, experience, and location of the work.

In India, the salary of a fresh process engineer varies in the range of 300,000 INR to 600,000 INR per year. A mid-range process engineer with 10 years of experience usually earns 1,200,000 INR to 2,000,000 INR per year.

In the USA, the salaries of process engineers range from $35,000 to $162,000 per year.

How do you become a better Process Engineer?

It is by Years of experience. More specifically, it’s more than the ability to do lightning-fast calculations and estimates in your head, a good process engineer looks at an object, compares it to known measurements, and translates that information into formulas. For example, you can estimate the height and number of floors of a distillation column by looking at the number of rungs one foot apart on the attached ladder. Little tricks like this are compiled from years of experience. 

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