Learn About Being a Process Engineer
What does a process engineer do?
A process engineer is responsible for the equipment, system and methods used in a manufacturing facility to transform raw ingredients to their final product form. This position is responsible for the smooth operation of production facilities, plants and factories, and often requires a mix of scientific and administrative skills. Some process engineer duties include:
Testing, monitoring and maintaining equipment, including conducting regular tests to make sure equipment complies with national and internal standards
Researching, pricing and assisting in the purchase of new equipment
Designing new equipment as required or redesigning the flow of the process in the factory or plant
Designing, modifying and overseeing processes to guarantee maximum 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
Collecting and interpreting data on efficiency and budgets to report to senior management
Analyzing every detail and step of the production process to cut costs, increase productivity and optimize the production line
Process engineers generally hold full-time positions. Their salary varies depending on their education and experience and the size, type and geographical location of the company in which they work. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
- Common salary in the U.S.: $89,866 per year
- Some salaries range from $35,000 to $162,000 per year.
Process engineer requirements
Here are some requirements needed to obtain a position as a process engineer:
Process engineers should have a bachelor’s degree in chemical, manufacturing or industrial engineering. Concentrations in chemistry, mathematics and management are helpful as well. Some employers ask for advanced or master’s degrees for specialized or senior process engineer positions.
When choosing a college or university, it is important to select one accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accredits associate, bachelor’s and master’s programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. Currently, students can choose from 4,005 programs in 32 countries.
Much of a process engineer’s training will take place in the classroom when they learn different aspects of the job, such as organic chemistry, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, process design and physics. During internships, students have the opportunity to train with equipment specific to their potential roles.
Once a process engineer obtains a position with a company, they will receive on-the-job training. As each factory or plant will manufacture a different product, the details of the workings of each one will also vary. Engineers may also have to familiarize themselves with different equipment in the workplace.
Process engineers will benefit from the acquisition of certificates that demonstrate their expertise and mastery of aspects of their job. Some of these are:
Certified Manufacturing Engineers certification (CMfgE)
To qualify for the Certified Manufacturing Engineers certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, applicants need a minimum of eight combined years of manufacturing-related education and work experience and must pass an examination. Holders of this certificate must re-certify every three years.
Center for Chemical Process Safety Professional Certification (CCPSC)
A CCPSC demonstrates a process engineer’s ability to follow best safety practices in the workplace. Applicants must pass an exam and submit three professional references. To maintain certification, holders must complete a certain number of professional development hours, which vary based on how long they possess the certification.
Created by an engineer to minimize or eliminate defects and errors in processes and products, Six Sigma is a quality management certification offered in different levels — yellow, green, black and master black belt. Lean Six Sigma is a version in which a team works together to remove waste and reduce variation. Process engineers can earn a belt from numerous organizations, including the American Society of Quality and the International Association for Six Sigma Certification. To earn Six Sigma, you must undergo approved training and pass an exam or complete a live project.
Several skills can be useful in a process engineer role:
Process engineers must have excellent mathematical abilities as they will spend large amounts of time gathering data and calculating optimal output. They will use their math skills to make small adjustments that can result in large changes.
Process engineers constantly review and revise processes in the system to ensure optimization. This involves analyzing each step of the process and examining it for flaws.
Familiarity with machinery
Process engineers use or oversee the use of large and complex equipment daily. As they are responsible for their safety and output, they will need to be familiar with all aspects of the machinery.
Familiarity with software
Knowing how to use programs like AutoCAD (design and drafting software), MATLAB (mathematical software that analyzes data, develops algorithms and creates models and applications) and SOLIDWORKS (computer-aided engineering program) can be helpful to predict outcomes of proposed changes.
Process engineers interact with technicians, other engineers, management and clients, so they need excellent communication skills. They must be able to offer information in an easy-to-understand manner to listeners who are not in the engineering field.
Because they often find and present new processes to others, a process engineer will need to be able to work well in a team and inspire confidence in others to implement change.
Process engineer work environment
Process engineers work in a variety of settings with the following characteristics:
- Walking around plants and factory floors that contain complex equipment
- Using and wearing safety equipment such as sensors, hard hats, vests and protective shoes
- Using technology constantly, whether to perform computer simulations, inspect heavy equipment or generate reports and presentations
- Facilitating communication and understanding between the technical staff and managers
Process engineers will generally work in factories, plants and manufacturing facilities, both large and small. Here are some examples of the types of places where a process engineer can find employment:
- Private process safety companies
- Nuclear plants
- Water treatment facilities
- Chemical manufacturers
- Oil companies
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Food and beverage manufacturers
- Insurance firms
- Companies that inspect chemical refineries
- Finance companies that fund chemical manufacturers
- Environment-friendly and recycling groups
How to become a process engineer
Here are the basic steps people follow to become a process engineer:
1. Pursue an education.
A bachelor’s degree is the basic entry-level requirement for a process engineering job. You can obtain a degree in mechanical, chemical or industrial engineering, for example. You may need to earn a master’s degree for certain positions depending on the company and role. Consider reviewing job descriptions for positions you’re interested in to determine which degree is best to pursue.
2. Earn certifications.
Though not required for most positions, earning a certification in an engineering field or with a Six Sigma designation can be useful during the job search. One or several certifications can expand your job opportunities and increase your earning potential. Certifications can show your dedication to the field and potentially impress hiring managers. Make sure you renew your certifications as needed.
3. Search for positions.
Once you have found open positions that match your level of education and experience, carefully read the instructions for applying. Write a cover letter that summarizes the reasons why you would be a good fit for the job. To increase your chances of receiving an interview, tailor your application materials for each job to stand out from other candidates.
Process engineer job description example
A midsize chemical company in the Chicago metropolitan area is looking for a dynamic and enthusiastic team player to become our lead process engineer. The successful candidate will have a bachelor’s degree in engineering (or higher) and be familiar with AutoCAD, MATLAB and SOLIDWORKS. Familiarity with Microsoft Office products a plus. This position requires making reports at weekly managerial meetings about quotas, safety and optimization. At least half the engineer’s time will be spent on the adjacent factory floor (our office and factory occupy the same property) overseeing a process that involves about 65 employees.