11 Jan 2022

Know More, Do Better: Process Engineering & the Making of Everything

Modern life is filled with ‘things.’  They line the shelves of stores and tempt us in the grocery aisles.  From time to time, most of us have wondered how it all comes together – just how do they get the caramel in the Caramilk bar?  From the glass screen you’re looking into now, to the sandwich you’ll have for lunch, process engineers are the quiet architects behind it all.  Working in concert with engineers of different specializations, the process engineer is focused on the end-to-end manufacturing processes that bring us all those wonderful ‘things.’

Scientists work to advance human knowledge – to increase our understanding of the world and the immense cosmos that surrounds us.  This drive for discovery has produced humanity’s greatest achievement – simply, to ‘know more.’  In the applied sciences, the empowerment of ‘knowing more’ leads naturally to the process engineer’s aspiration – to ‘do better.’

Like all working in the applied sciences, process engineers are on the front lines of ‘doing better.’  While science and applied science often come together in dialogues that guide efforts in research and development, the process engineer draws on growing bodies of human knowledge to solve practical problems.  Everything the process engineer does, leads from ‘knowing more’ to ‘doing better.’

Things to Know about Process Engineers

1.What exactly does a process engineer do?  

Process engineers focus mainly on manufacturing processes that see raw materials transformed into useful everyday products.  Generally, this means designing manufacturing systems that involve chemical and biochemical processes.  For instance, a completed manufacturing system might see raw materials like strawberries and sugar introduced to the front end of a system, while fresh strawberry jam pours into jars at the end.

To design a manufacturing system like this, the process engineer begins by breaking down each individual process that is required to transform raw materials into useful products.  To continue with the over-simplified example of making jam, a process engineer might identify several processes needed to guarantee a satisfactory result:

  • Adding raw strawberries to a vat where they are cooked and diced into smaller pieces;
  • Transferring the cooked strawberry slurry to a system where sugar is added at higher temperatures to ensure it fully dissolves into the mixture; and
  • Diverting the mixture through a cooling system before the completed product is dispensed into jars at the end of the line.

Naturally, a process engineer would identify a multitude of other processes required in the steps needed to manufacture jam.  Each of these processes would be tailored specifically to client needs.  For example, in manufacturing seedless raspberry jam, a process engineer would design an additional process to the system that would filter the tiny seeds out of the mixture.

2.What tasks and responsibilities shape process engineering workflows?  

Process engineers do much more than make jam.  Their work is extremely varied, making process engineering one of the most diverse disciplines in the world.   Designing a manufacturing process from end-to-end is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to the actual work they do.

Applying and combining knowledge from scientific disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, and math, the manufacturing processes they design tend to change chemical and biochemical substances into other substances, also combining them to form new compound substances that have useful properties.

Process engineers work behind the scenes to bring us all the things we use daily.  They bring us electronics, clothing, foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals, polymers, oil and gas products, and almost anything made with plastic or paper.  Each product results from a custom manufacturing process designed by a process engineer.

Their responsibilities may start with designing a manufacturing system composed of various processes leading to the desired end, but they also implement their systems, controlling and optimizing individual processes as well as the machinery that makes it all possible.  These responsibilities don’t end with the initial design but can extend over large timescales as client needs grow and evolve.

3.How does a process engineer differ from a chemical engineer or a manufacturing engineer?  

Process engineers commonly start their careers by studying chemical engineering, focusing on the chemical and biochemical processes that are used in manufacturing.  A chemical engineer who chooses to specialize in designing and optimizing industrial processes that utilize chemical/biochemical processes becomes known as a process engineer.  These specializations are uniquely intertwined.

Manufacturing engineers often start their careers by studying mechanical engineering or industrial engineering.  While industrial engineering is focused on improving profitability for industrial businesses, mechanical engineering is more focused on the design and construction of mechanical devices.  Coming from either of these disciplines, extra training in supply chain management and operations is required before becoming a manufacturing engineer.

The difference between process engineering and manufacturing engineering is often most apparent in the processes employed in the type of manufacturing.  Process engineers, for instance, are usually involved in designing systems that will mix substances from a formula or ‘recipe.’  Easy examples of this include products like gasoline, cosmetics, beer, or strawberry jam.  On the other hand, manufacturing engineers work in what is often called discrete manufacturing, which mostly involves assembling complex products with components that are combined to produce a distinct new product.  Products like smartphones, microwaves, and car components are all produced in this way.

This means that process engineers and manufacturing engineers often work in differing kinds of facilities.  A process engineer is more likely to work in a facility filled with boilers, piping, distillation columns, temperature gauges, filters, and pumps that keep chemical and biochemical substances moving through a continuous system.  A manufacturing engineer is more likely to work in a facility with robots, packing machines, or assembly lines.

Process engineers and manufacturing engineers often work in unison.  Engineering is potentially the most interdisciplinary of vocations, so it’s common for process engineers to work alongside other engineers with complementary skill sets and visions for a particular project.

Process engineers at Catch work on a large variety of different projects across multiple industries, although their recent work servicing the oil & gas sector has set them apart.  For an exploration and production company in oil & gas, process engineers have crucial responsibilities, including:

  • Reviewing and studying requests for modifications (RFMs) from an Oil & Gas Operations Team to determine their feasibility;  (Small modification requests might include adding a valve to a particular process, while large modifications might involve changes to a plant’s entire operation procedure.)
  • Ensuring current operating parameters match a company’s technical standards and specifications;
  • Running simulations on software like Hysys or PRO2;
  • Initiating ‘Process Studies’ to identify further efficiency and optimization possibilities, passing feasible modifications to Operations or Management for consideration; and
  • Advocating for designs that are safe and provide additional layers of safety protection for workers.

In any industry, Catch Engineering’s process engineers are collaborators of the highest order, harnessing only “the latest & greatest” technology to expertly solve problems for clients and design only the most efficient end-to-end manufacturing systems available.  Contact us to learn more.

“REEL in the excellence, CAPTURE the expertise.” – Catch Engineering