Chemical Engineer

Chemical engineers design, plan and manage plants where chemical products are processed into final or intermediate products of enhanced value. Their work entails the application of techniques that are based on the principles of heat, mass and momentum transfer. They ensure the profitable employment of scientific findings in industrial processes.


Chemical engineers are involved in all phases of chemical products and chemical production. Some work in research, designing and performing experiments and then analysing the results. Others help to design and construct manufacturing facilities, occasionally having to design a pilot plant (or miniature version) as a first step which they follow through to the final step of supervising the workers constructing the actual plant.


Some engineers help to solve the problems involved in producing high quality products at lowest cost. Safety and protection of the environment are key areas.


Chemical engineers design and operate processes for the production of chemicals, plastics, minerals and other raw materials. They may work in crude oil refineries, coal and gas industries and metallurgical industries, as well as in industries involved in the production of food, textiles, plastics, explosives, cement, etc.


Chemical engineers’ work can include:


Research and development: the chemical manufacturing industry is based on processes discovered and developed in the research laboratory.


Economic evaluation: the economic viability of a production process must be determined by chemical engineers in cooperation with financial and marketing specialists.


Plant and equipment design: the manufacturing process entails: selecting the process and type of equipment; compiling mass and energy balances; calculating the capacity and dimensions of the equipment required for the operation of units such as reactors, heating and cooling systems, filters and pipelines; selecting the control system of the plant to control rate of flow, temperature, pressure and concentration; determining flow rate and energy usage; analysing potential hazards to ensure a safe working environment.


Equipment manufacture and plant construction: chemical engineers are involved in the manufacture of the necessary equipment, as well as in the factory layout.


Plant operation: chemical engineers are responsible for: the testing and commissioning of plant units; the training of operating staff; the start-up of the plant; the efficient and cost-effective running of the factory and solving problems.


Management: as managers, chemical engineers are responsible for ensuring that the chemical plant operates at a profit.


Textile Engineers design and develop processes, equipment and procedures for the production of fibres, yarns and textiles.


Engineering graduates usually begin work under the supervision of experienced engineers and are gradually given more responsibilities as they gain experience. Some engineers with experience and additional education, move into administration or management. Many high-level executives in industry began their careers as engineers.


The chemical engineering industry includes: refineries; industries involved in the extraction of metallurgic materials from ores (for example gold, steel, uranium); industries involved in the manufacture of fertilizer, explosives, paper, chemicals and plastics; industries involved in the processing of coal, and also the management of waste and effluent which may pollute the air and water.


Chemical engineers may be found in a wide variety of work settings ranging from classrooms, as teachers and lecturers, to research laboratories or construction sites. The actual work setting depends on the type of work and on the size, location and financial resources of the employer.


Chemical Engineering Technician


Chemical engineering technicians use their knowledge of engineering and chemistry to operate and improve chemical processes in an efficient, and a safe and profitable way.


They work in close liaison with chemical engineers to design and develop and operate processes for the large-scale production of chemicals, plastics, synthetic fibres, minerals and other useful commodities. They act as a link between plant operators and chemical engineers and spend a good deal of their time in factory production areas.


Chemical engineering technicians collect information related to a chemical process by taking measurements and consulting the operators. They analyse samples in chemical laboratories. They also make calculations and prepare reports required by factory managers.


They may be involved in the building of experimental plants, testing the processes concerned, solving technical problems and could also be involved in determining the economic viability of projects.


Chemical Engineering Technologist


Chemical engineering technologists work with chemical engineers and chemical engineering technicians, using chemicals and related equipment and products for research and development and also for the manufacture of medical and pharmaceutical preparations.


Chemical engineering technologists test products for strength, durability and purity and also produce compounds through complex organic synthesis. Using sophisticated laboratory equipment, they assist chemical engineers in the design, manufacture and operation of chemical plants for the production of plastics, synthetic fibres, minerals and other useful commodities.


They also perform tests for industry, agriculture and medicine. As laboratory instrumentation and procedures become more complex, the roles of chemical engineering technologists in research and development are expanding. They also develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, and they interpret data and devise solutions to problems under the direction of scientists.


How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects


  • National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course

  • National Senior Certificate meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course


Each institution has its own entry requirements.


Note: the Engineering Faculties of some universities offer a support programme to help students complete the very demanding engineering course. The programme is aimed at students from communities which lack proper education facilities.


What to Study

Degree: The B degree in Chemical Engineering - UCT, UKZN, NWU, UP, US, UNISA, UJ and Wits.


Practical undergraduate students gain practical experience by working with an approved employer during university vacations. This is a prerequisite at all universities. After completion of a B. degree in Engineering, the graduate students register at the
Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as an engineer in training. They then go through a training period of 3 years at an approved employer. After successful completion of this training period, they can register as professional engineers with ECSA.


Employment


  • chemical manufacturers and other industries such as: petroleum refining, synthetic fuel manufacture, food processing, brewing, minerals processing, paper and pulp, pollution control, manufacture of synthetic fibres, fertilisers and explosives

  • such organisations as: CSIR, AECI, Eskom, Sasol, NECSA, Sentrachem

  • Atomic Energy Board 

  • Council for Mineral Technology (Mintek)

  • government departments

  • universities


Further Information

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)
Private Bag X 691
Bruma, 2026
Tel: (011) 607-9500 Fax: (011) 622-9295
E-mail: engineer@ecsa.co.za
www.ecsa.co.za


Society for Professional Engineers
P O Box 78433
Sandton, 2146
Tel: (011) 783-0765
www.professionalengineers.co.za


South African Institute of Chemical Engineers
(SAIChE)
P O Box 2125
North Riding, 2162
Tel: (011) 704-5915 Fax : (011) 462-2612
www.saiche.co.za


Additional website: www.engineeringnews.co.za


Getting Started


  • join science or hobby clubs

  • arrange to talk to chemists and engineers and visit chemical processing plants to observe the work tasks


Programmes by Study Institutions

Bursaries


Related Occupations