Sunday, May 22, 2022

Chemical Engineering Expectations VS Reality | What Do Chemical Engineers Do

Hello world eggs here today we're gonna talk about my expectations versus reality for chemical engineering if you haven't already checked it out i also made another video called things i wish i knew about chemical engineering that's sort of a broad overview of the career .

And things i think new chemical engineers should know before getting into it so go ahead and check that one out after this one but in today's video i'm gonna go into more of my impressions of the industry when i first got into it out of college and uh sort of my expectation mismatch maybe we could call it a culture shock .

That i felt getting into it for the first time there are a lot of different jobs and career paths chemical engineers can take but this is probably going to be the more traditional typical circumstance for most chemists so first of all to all the students who have mastered all their courses maybe .

You're pretty familiar with this book among others you've mastered thermodynamics you know how to design a distillation column right out of school most of that's not really entirely necessary unless you're working for a designing company you probably aren't going to have to be 100 focusing on these didactics .

And super technical details of your chemical engineering coursework especially once you get into a manufacturing process or maybe on a plant site you're really going to have to have that in the back your mind sort of as a baseline knowledge that you can go back to later if you really need to but really you're .

Not going to be designing distillation columns every day you might work with them it's good to have a background understanding of how they work and how they operate and how to solve problems that arise but you're not going to have to design something on the spot like you .

Might in a test for example so if your professor tells you you need to know this in the real world it's true but not exactly in the way that it's taught pretty much every problem that comes up you'll have a good couple days or so to google it and look back in your old textbooks .

Pull out the perry's chemical engineering handbook and uh really take your time to get back into it and relearn what you need to know to solve that problem not to mention as a chemical engineer doing a process engineering role you're probably not going to design and .

Install a new distillation column you're just going to have other people do that for you and then make sure that it's running properly make sure it comes up smoothly and make sure it's integrated into the chemical process if you're a design engineer you'll probably get into .

Designing the distillation column but that'll be all you do pretty much wherever you go as a chemical engineer you're probably working for a really big company and you're going to be one tiny little cog and a really really big machine so your design and your engineering is going to be focusing on one small aspect .

Of this massive system so why does a big old company need an engineer so badly well it's because they can solve problems they're creative and that's one thing that really caught me off guard about the job is how absolutely creative the whole thing is really chemical engineering is a bit of an art form when you get down to it .

It doesn't matter if you're designing or you're working on quality control or you're doing process engineering it's all very very creative in university where you have a class and a grade it just seems like there's only one correct solution to any problem and sometimes only one way to get to .

That solution but in the real world when you're solving real problems there's always a million one different ways of doing something and it's really up to you as an engineer to try to find that creative solution the reason a lot of people think that engineering is not creative .

Is because there's a lot of constraints if you want to have any sort of a change to a process for example say you're designing a new mixer you're going to want to make sure it's safe you're going to make sure it's affordable you're going to want to make sure that it's a certain size and temperature these are all parameters that constrain .

You and your design and they'll often push you towards a certain direction contrary to popular belief constraint actually helps us discover new ideas and think more abstractly and more creatively to solve problems i recently read a really cool book called inside the box .

And the concept is that we actually get more creative when we're constrained in a design process we actually are forced by our constraints to think more creatively if you think outside the box and there are no constraints you're less creative imagine having a blank canvas and a bunch of paint and being told to .

Make something beautiful it's really hard to be creative at least for me in that sort of environment so one thing that really shocked me was just all the different ways that we could actually go about solving a really technical problem something that seemed like it should only have one solution every different .

Person has a different opinion on how it should be done going back to that mix for example go ahead and look up impellers and baffles and you'll just see how many different creative crazy ideas can go into something so simple and that's one thing that really shocked .

Me in the industry is having just so many different ways of solving any given problem especially when you bring a lot of engineers together they all have a different idea of what is the best solution to any given issue so in a room full of solutions how do you as an engineer get your .

Creative idea across and get the resources and the funding and the support to make sure that your project is successful and it actually happens well you're going to have to be a salesman a lot of chemical insurers go into sales jobs but that's not what i'm talking about .

Just about any engineering job you're going to have to sell your ideas probably to upper management or the people with the money especially if you're a new engineer new engineers are going to have to bring more data better design better project plans more sensible projects .

And all around they're going to have to do a lot more jobs selling their ideas and selling their creative solutions so going back to the mixer example say you found the perfect impeller for the job well you're gonna have to advocate that to the people who have the money and the people who make decisions you're gonna have to sell it to them .

With data a good design a good project plan maybe a really beneficial cost with a good net present value you're gonna have to bring that all together and sell it to someone if you want it to happen you might have to network you might have to work with different stakeholders and .

Convince different people that it's what makes sense another thing salesmen are really comfortable with is rejection so don't be surprised if you get a lot of no's before you get your first yes on a creative project and that might just be the one that makes your reputation on the topic of pushing your .

Projects there's another really big hurdle to any of your projects or creative solutions and that's bureaucracy you thought the dmv was bad well go ahead and try to install a new pipe in just about any chemical plant and then come back to me practically speaking installing .

A new pipe material is pretty darn easy just about anywhere you go however depending on the process the price of the product that you're working on the safety concerns that are involved and maybe environmental issues that could come up with the process fluid you're probably .

Going to have to deal with a lot of paperwork to make sure that that's not going to cause any issues there's a lot of downstream consequences that us engineers have to think about especially if you're working a big company anything you change is going to require a stack of paperwork and maybe five or ten managers to .

Approve it then maybe 50 other stakeholders and individuals to actually purchase it and install it properly in the right time frame so the reason for all this bureaucracy and the reason it might be really hard for you to do something that seems really simple is because with any chemical process .

There's going to be a lot of risk there's going to be a lot of risk to the environment people's health to a budget so with each of those risks you're going to have engineers who are responsible for keeping those under control and making sure that they don't go awry .

With a lot of engineers you've got a lot of people and with a lot of people in a system you've got a bureaucracy it's 100 necessary but it definitely slows things down so you might think that this bureaucracy is an issue for you and your project right now .

But maybe tomorrow you'll be in one of those roles helping mitigate risk of other projects so think of this as a career opportunity for you and think about how you might be able to fit in some of these other positions but aside from all that this career is anything but boring especially if you're working at a process facility .

Manufacturing a product that's important you're gonna be really really close to the money and the revenue stream for that company if anything goes wrong or if anything bad happens to the process it's gonna really be noticeable to you and your team if a continuous process for example shuts down .

Or maybe a batch process is having some yield issue everyone and their mom is going to want to be trying to find the solution to that problem as soon as possible because every minute that goes by is another couple thousand dollars out the door sometimes a day can be a million dollars .

Depending on what you're working on so if a particular process makes a million dollars a week or a couple thousand dollars an hour you can just imagine the amount of pressure behind keeping that thing up keeping it running and making sure it has good production so let's go back to the mixer example .

After all of your creativity your salesmanship the bureaucracy all the paperwork all the management approvals and all the different risk analysis the manufacturing of the machine to the production of it to the shipping and finally to the installation it's all .

Gonna take months maybe even a year and it's all gonna lead up to this great big moment where you turn it on and that's the moment of truth that's really when you find out if your big idea was worth it if you get it right and your creative idea makes the process better there is nothing .

More satisfying than that if you get it wrong and it makes things worse or it doesn't work there is nothing in the world more disappointing so i want you just keep that idea in mind that you know there's a lot of pressure behind these things so this career especially on the process side .

Is really unique in that it's such a roller coaster you'll never have such high highs or such low lows when dealing with this sort of thing on the flip side of that you're gonna have some really great celebrations when things go right and you do solve problems because the reward is immediate .

All right that's it for me today that's just all the things i could think of right off the top of my head for when i first got into it let me know in the comments what you thought and if you have any funny stories go ahead and like if you enjoyed it and subscribe if you want to see more videos like this .

One thank you so much for joining me and i'll see you later


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