Process engineering/chemical engineering presents an interdisciplinary engineering science that has developed at the interface between mechanical engineering, technical/engineering physics, mathematics, physical and technical chemistry. Process engineering is the technology of the nuclear transmutation of material / material conversion. Physical, and especially, mechanical and thermal, as well as chemical and biological processes are examined and modelled. The aim is to optimise the structuring of procedures and operations for appropriate plants, facilities and installations. This also applies to the field of thermal and fuel engineering which – with the exception electric heat – ranges from domestic heating through to process heating in heavy industry, including the processing of fuels. Branches of environmental engineering and biotechnology have recently experienced particularly rapid development.
While process engineering has ties with mechanical engineering through its branches of plant engineering and planning, chemical engineering (chemical technology) focuses on the chemical, biological and physical processes and methods of material conversion/nuclear transmutation. Examples include the conversion of sugar into alcohol, ethylene into polyethylene or the physical blending or separation of substances. Besides the manufacturing of industrial products, areas like environmental protection, recycling technology and the development of resource-conserving production methods are typical fields of application for chemical engineering.
Biotechnology uses microbiology, biochemistry and engineering to study biological systems, above all microorganisms, for the purpose of developing engineering procedures for the production of cell and tissue cultures (biomass), cell contents (enzymes, etc.), cell products (baking yeast, alcohol, citric acid, antibiotics, etc.) as well as pollutant degradation measures (sewage treatment plants). Biotechnology has made rapid strides forward since the mid-1970s, above all as a result of genetic engineering, and is now seen as the key future technology for agriculture and farming and the food industry, medicine, pharmacy, the power-generating industry, and environmental protection.
It is not always easy to clearly define and distinguish process engineering and chemical engineering from the – more metal processing orientated – field of production, manufacturing or processing technology or from industrial engineering.
Most higher education institutions offer studies in process engineering or chemical engineering, in some cases, both together. Differentiation then takes place in the main study stage, whereby the consolidation options differ greatly.
University studies prepare students for careers with the following focuses: basic thermal and mechanical procedures and laws, such as rectification, evaporation, refrigeration, extraction, milling, centrifuging; development of engineering processes for material conversion / nuclear transmutation; technical design, planning and operation of process engineering plants, industrial health and safety, and plant safety. Universities of applied sciences programmes focus on teaching technical design and production-related knowledge and skills.
Employment opportunities for process engineers and chemical engineers are above all to be found with
the operators of process engineering plants, e.g. in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, in the petrochemicals industry, iron and steel industry, plastics industry, timber and building materials industry, glass and ceramics industry, paper and cellulose/pulp industry, textile industry, food and luxury foods industry, in public utilities and waste disposal corporations, in power generating corporations, and mining processing and refining companies,
planning, manufacturing and assembly companies for process engineering equipment, plants and installations,
supervising and authorising/licensing authorities, in technical supervision associations (TÜV),
engineering or expert surveyor or valuator offices or as consultants in a freelance capacity.
Lectures, exercises and practical courses in mathematics, numerical calculus, physics, chemistry, physical chemistry, mechanics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, technical principles.
Advanced study with chemistry, heat and material transmission, chemical, thermal and mechanical process engineering, process and plant technology, mechanical and apparatus technology, measurement and control engineering, process information systems; specialisation in one of the areas mentioned at the outset. The intermediate Diplom examination in related degree programmes – mechanical engineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics, electrical engineering – may be recognised for admission to the main study stage.
Depending on the school/vocational qualifications, a pre-study internship of several weeks is generally required. Practical phases of varying length are completed during the studies.
Lectures and exercises in general mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, physical chemistry, materials sciences, electrical engineering, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, computing.
Instrument and control engineering, electrical engineering, including electronics, thermal engineering, industrial business administration and management; focuses in the field of thermal process engineering (drying technology, mineral oil processing, refrigeration technology), and chemical or mechanical process engineering (size reduction/crushing technology, separation technology, nebulising technology) in apparatus engineering and plant engineering, in chemical, plastics and food technology, and in biotechnology.