Process engineering largely focuses on the end-to-end manufacturing of products. A relatively new discipline, process engineering supports the sustainable economic and technological development of industries across the world.
By designing, controlling and operating the chemical or biochemical processes and equipment that are used to turn raw materials into valuable products, process engineers play a vital role in many industries – particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Like other engineering roles, process engineering offers plenty of scope for continuing professional development and travel. Understandably, it’s one of the most highly sought-after careers in the life sciences.
To aid you in your job search, we’ve put together this process engineer job profile exploring what it’s like to work in this burgeoning field.
What does a process engineer do?
Process engineers help to transform raw materials into valuable everyday products. They are responsible for designing, implementing, controlling and optimising industrial processes and machinery in the manufacturing industry. Within pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing, these processes can also be chemical or biochemical. As such, process engineering jobs can be extremely varied.
The role is similar to that of a chemical engineer, which can often be a source of confusion for those outside the profession. While a process engineer is a type of chemical engineer, they typically focus less on chemistry and more on mathematics and physics.
Process engineers spend most of their time in an office or laboratory environment. Engineers may also be based onsite at industrial plants, refineries, and other large-scale manufacturing locations, where they are often required to monitor and/or direct operations. Most process engineers work 9-to-5 on a full-time basis.
On a day-to-day basis, process engineers design processes and equipment for manufacturing, monitor equipment through regular testing, and provide strategic oversight of the processes being deployed. Other responsibilities include:
- Researching, designing and developing new equipment
- Developing, configuring and optimising end-to-end industrial processes, from ideation to certification
- Managing cost and time constraints
- Ensuring compliance with both internal and external protocols and regulations
- Running risk assessments of the equipment and processes being used
- Collecting data, writing reports, and presenting findings to senior management
What is a process engineer in manufacturing?
In the manufacturing sector, process engineers are involved in the planning, management, coordination and control of the manufacturing process. They ensure that any products produced by the manufacturers are created in an efficient and cost-effective manner while complying with health and safety regulations and quality standards.
Given that process engineers tend to work in manufacturing, their responsibilities can often get conflated with that of a manufacturing engineer. To compound the matter further, certain companies employ manufacturing process engineers.
What is the difference between a process engineer and a manufacturing engineer?
The difference can be summarised by their specialisms. Process engineers are usually trained in chemical engineering and specialise in the design and optimisation of industrial processes, while manufacturing engineers are often mechanical or industrial engineers with extra training in supply chain management and operations.
These specialisms translate into the type of manufacturing each work in:
- Process engineers work in process or continuous-flow manufacturing. This involves making “stuff” that has to be mixed from a formula or recipe (e.g. cosmetic products, gasoline, beer, cheese, etc.).
- Manufacturing engineers work in discrete manufacturing. This involves assembling “things” that can be counted and itemised (e.g. car components, mobile phones, microwaves, etc.).
As such, their work environment differs slightly, too. Process engineers typically work in factories with equipment such as piping, pumps, valves, boilers, temperature gauges, and distillation columns, while manufacturing engineers tend to work with assembly lines, packing machines and robots.
Can mechanical engineers work as process engineers?
In a word, yes. Engineering is an extremely interdisciplinary vocation with infinite challenges, so it’s common for process engineers and mechanical engineers to work alongside one another on the same projects. Others even accrue enough knowledge and experience to successfully change positions.
If you are a mechanical engineering graduate looking to find work as a process engineer, switching specialisms will not affect your employability — as long as you know the fundamentals of engineering and can demonstrate advanced problem-solving skills to employers.
Process engineer jobs
Process engineers work in various roles across the manufacturing industries — from petrochemicals to food and drink. Other key industries include agriculture, automotive, biotechnical, material development, mining, nuclear, pharmaceutical and software development.
The following job titles are related to process engineering:
- Graduate process engineer
- Process development engineer
- Process engineer
- Process systems engineer
- Senior process engineer
- Technical engineer
How much do process engineers earn?
The national average process engineer salary in the UK is around £40,000. Starting salaries for entry-level process engineering jobs are usually in the range of £20,000 to £30,000, depending on factors such as industry, employer and location. Salaries can rise to £60,000 with experience. Again, this depends on the level of expertise and the industry that you work in.
How do you become a process engineer?
As a minimum requirement for entry-level positions, you’ll need a graduate (BEng) or postgraduate MEng) degree in chemical, manufacturing or industrial engineering. Some other relevant degree courses that universities offer include:
Because process engineering is a broad area, it helps to have an engineering degree that is tailored towards the employer. For example, if you are seeking work in Gaining a PhD in engineering or any of these fields can also make you a more attractive proposition for employers.
Likewise, getting as much work experience as possible will also stand you in good stead. Two ways to enhance your skills and employability include process engineering internships and industrial placement. Many large employers frequently offer internships (particularly in the summer months), while industrial placement schemes give students the chance to gain supplementary work experience alongside their studies.
Skills and experience
Academic qualifications alone will not be enough for most mid- to senior-level process engineering positions. While requirements vary from company to company, the skills you’ll need to become a process engineer include:
- IT and numeracy skills
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Critical thinking
- Meticulous attention to detail
- Industry knowledge
- Commercial and business awareness
Attaining chartered process engineer accreditation from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) – the UK’s leading professional qualifying body for chemical, biochemical and process engineers – can lead to enhanced career prospects.
If your degree is fully accredited by IChemE, you already meet the required level to become eligible for Chartered Member (MIChemE) status. If not, you’ll need to demonstrate an advanced knowledge of chemical engineering and its applications.
Candidates also need to demonstrate professional experience and complete a Competence and Commitment (C&C) report.