8 Facts About Food Process Engineers

If you were to summarize the job of a process engineer in one sentence it could be as follows:

A process engineer designs, implements and optimizes process equipment.

In one sentence it sounds pretty straight forward. However, under that sentence there is so much more to what these professionals do!

Food process engineers can help to provide conditions, facilities and equipment necessary to prepare the food in increasing quantities required.

How do the individuals actually do it? Keep reading to find out because this week FoodGrads is looking an essential part of the manufacturing industry and how they keep our factories running.

1. Food Process Engineers design manufacturing equipment

Process Engineers are professionals who:

Design, construct, operate and maintain manufacturing equipment. Process Engineers do so conducting scientific/engineering experiments of moderate to high complexity, utilizing engineering principles, employing literature review, planning, equipment setup, collection and analysis of data.

Many times they are involved in cost saving initiatives such as making a process more energy efficient. Throughout the design process engineers ensure the proper documentation and drawings are produced and maintained.

They work with various departments depending on the type of initiative by the company. For example, they provide technical support to plant safety professionals and plant staff when designing and/or redesigning work processes to eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses.

2. Food Process Engineers have this education

Traditionally, food process engineers require a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, manufacturing  or industrial engineering.  This is because these programs teach fundamental topics which are difficult to learn in other degree programs.

In addition to work as a process engineer, you must be registered and licensed as a Professional Engineer with you provincial association which vary among the provinces. For example, in Ontario to become registered you are required to:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be of good Character
  • Meet PEO’s stipulated academic requirements for licensure (hold an undergraduate engineering degree from a Canadian Engineering Accreditation board (CEAB)-accredited program, or possess equivalent qualifications), and, if required, successfully complete any technical exams.
  • Fulfil the engineering work experience requirements (demonstrate at least 48 months of verifiable, acceptable engineering experience, at least 12 months of which must be acquired in a Canadian jurisdiction under a licensed professional engineer); and
  • Successfully complete PEO’s Professional Practice Examination (PPE).

3. Food Process Engineers with software

Process engineers always come into projects with a plan because overhauling a process is a pricey and risky procedure. In order to minimize these risks food process engineers use advanced software that mimics real-world conditions. If an operation doesn’t work on a computer software there is no way that is going to work in real life!

The software also provides another benefit. Plant management can use the computer to schedule, operate, and control for the optimal production of the food product.

4. Food Process Engineer work with equipment

Although it might sound obvious, process engineers work with mechanical equipment. After a process has been approved for use in the plant, senior process engineers are often responsible for overseeing the installation of new equipment, and making sure that it is installed according to the process specifications.

However, their guidance is not just limited to the installation of the machinery. These professionals are also involved in monitoring the equipment overtime. For example, they might monitor the personnel trained on the machinery and see if they can better stream line the equipment.

5. Food Process Engineers perform risk assessments

Process engineers are responsible for assessing current processes and equipment to determine risk of malfunction/failure, employee/personnel injury, and much more. If equipment is at a high risk for failure this could means thousands of potential dollars lost for a company.

Because engineers are the individuals who design the actual equipment you can imagine they would also be the ones who would be best to judge the risks in the system.

How do you actually perform a risk assessment? An example of a simple risk assessment plant is.

  1. Planning for risk
  2. Identifying risks
  3. Analyzing risks
  4. Developing risk response strategies
  5. Monitoring and controlling risks

Assessing risk is a very important job for a process engineer.

6. Food Process Engineers perform data collection

Most business decisions are not based on hunches but on well collected data. Therefore, process engineers collect, interpret, and compile data. They collect data from different sources such as production reports and experiments they have performed.

Not only does a process engineer collect data but they also analyze it and present it. When high-level business personnel see data they want it presented in a way that gives them the summarized facts. That way they can better make more informed decisions.

7. Food Process Engineers troubleshoot problems 

A troubleshooting problem is one where something occurs that is unexpected to such an extent that it is perceived that some corrective action may be needed. In a food plant a correct action required may be:

  • Initiate emergency shut-down procedures
  • Forget the situation: it will eventually correct itself
  • Identify and correct the cause while the process continues to operate under current conditions.

Choosing what to do generally required a lot of experience. Process engineers need have strong problem solving as this helps to reduce machine shut down and costs. If these professionals do not have an answer they are quick to research looking to see if other plants have had these problems before or books will provide insight.

If you interested in honing you skills there is an entire book on the subject called, “Successful Trouble Shooting for Process Engineers: A Complete Course in Case Studies.”

8.  Food Process Engineers have these sets of skills

Being a Process Engineer requires a range of skills however there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:

  • Calm under pressure Manufacturing environments are fast moving and this can be stressful for some. These professionals need to be able to troubleshoot at an advanced level in multiple situations.  If a problem is delaying manufacturing, they must be able to come up with effective working solutions quickly as there will be pressure from management.
  • Critical/logical thinking Process engineers need to be logical thinkers in order to solve problems. They have to break down problems and come to conclusions as to how to solve them. They should be critical when making a decision as each solution has their own repercussions
  • Analytical skills Analytical skills refer to the ability to collect an analyze information. Process engineers use their  analytical skills to analyze data they collected and make decisions.

Author: Veronica Hislop Veronica is a recent FoodGrad working as Quality Assurance Technician at a snack food company. She graduated with a Chemistry degree at Ryerson University and has a passion for bringing awareness to sustainability in the food industry. When Veronica is taking a break from her food endeavours you will find her at home reading a great novel and playing with her cats.

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