Chemical and Process Engineering
Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with the application of physical science (e.g. chemistry and physics), with mathematics, to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. In addition to producing useful materials, chemical engineering is also concerned with pioneering valuable new materials and techniques, an important form of research and development. A person employed in this field is called a Chemical engineer.
Chemical engineering largely involves the design and maintenance of chemical processes for large-scale manufacture. Chemical engineers in this branch are usually employed under the title of Process engineer. The development of the large-scale processes characteristic of industrialised economies is a feat of chemical engineering, not chemistry. Indeed, chemical engineers are responsible for the availability of the modern high-quality materials that are essential for running an industrial economy.
Chemical engineering is responsible for the production of chemicals for use in our everyday lives. Chemical Engineers work in a wide range of areas including:
- Water and waste water treatment
- Oil refinement and petrochemicals
- Electricity generation
- Food and beverage production
- Cosmetics and textiles
The chemical and biopharmaceutical industries continue to be among the fastest growing sectors in Ireland. Nine of the top ten companies globally (Pfizer, Merck, GSK, J&J, Novartis, Roche, Amgen, Eli Lilly and BMS) have research, manufacturing and services activities here.
The National Skills Bulletin Report lists Chemical and Product Formulation Engineers and Analysts among the most frequently cited difficult to source engineering occupations, with reference to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical devices and chemical industries sectors.
Biomedical engineering (BME) is the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field. It combines the design and problem solving skills of engineering with medical and biological sciences to help improve patient health care and the quality of life of individuals.
As a relatively new discipline, much of the work in biomedical engineering consists of research and development, covering an array of fields: bioinformatics, medical imaging, image processing, physiological signal processing, biomechanics, biomaterials and bioengineering, systems analysis, 3-D modeling, etc. Examples of concrete applications of biomedical engineering are the development and manufacture of biocompatible prostheses, medical devices, diagnostic devices and imaging equipment such as MRIs and EEGs, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Biomedical engineers are found at the forefront of technological advancements in improving healthcare. They may be involved in:
- The design and development of medical instruments and equipment.
- Researching the engineering aspects of biological systems.
- Researching new materials for medical products.
- Adapting or designing computer hardware and software for medical uses.
- Designing technology to assist people with disabilities.
The pharmaceutical industry discovers, develops, makes and sells medicines. Nine of the top ten multinational pharma companies in the world have substantial operations in Ireland. Some 24,500 people are directly employed in the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland and of these over half are highly trained graduates. The sector actually employs 25% of all PhD researchers! An additional 24,000+ are indirectly employed, providing support services, according to IDA Ireland.
[View Sector Infographic here]
Pharmacutical companies employ people with a wide range of skills and many are scientists, chemists, biologists and pharmacists. Others are engineers or manufacturing operatives, or may have qualifications in IT, finance, law, marketing or other specialist fields.
It takes about 12 years for a new medicine to go through the tests that are required before it can be prescribed by doctors. During this time hundreds of different people are involved, and the medicine passes through a large number of tests, designed to check that the medicine will work on the disease it is intended for, and that it will be safe for people to take.
As a result of the growth in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical device industries in Ireland, it is very likely that a student about to graduate with a third level qualification in science will find interesting employment in one of the following:
This is a challenging and exciting area to work in and involves the initial stage of discovery right through to manufacturing and having the product ready for the market. Opportunities in research are open to all graduates who have obtained a science degree. There is huge collaboration between industry, third level colleges and universities in this area as the government has recognized the importance of R&D to our future economic growth.
The government is committed to investing in this area and will continue to do so in the future. Working as part of a science team made up of different specialists is the normal working background for the Research scientist. The work requires attention to detail, good organisational skills and the ability to comprehend and communicate complex data clearly.
With 9 of the top 10 Pharmaceutical and 15 of the top 25 Medical technology companies now operating in Ireland, job opportunities and research work in this sector continue to have strong prospects. There are skills shortages in the sector and Ireland requires many more researchers than the country is currently producing.
The Report of the Research Prioritisation Group set out a pathway for government spending in Research, Development and Innovation for the sector, to ensure that it continues to thrive. Those with the talent, interest and an enquiring mind will find rewarding career opportunities and will most definitely be in demand in this area.
New scientific products such as drugs, pharmaceuticals or sophisticated medical devices require a massive amount of research and testing before they can proceed to the production stage. Careers in this sector include Laboratory technician, Quality control technician, Product/process technician, Environmental technician and Research scientist.
Major employers include the food processing, health care, pharmaceutical and chemical industries as well as state, semi-state and local authorities.In the case of drugs or pharmaceutics, when the product being researched is ready for development it requires blending chemical compounds with other ingredients to make the drug available in tablet or cream format. Quality control is vital at this stage. It requires producing the products to meet market demand in a cost effective and quality driven environment and at the same time meeting the highest standards in safety and compliance. For example this would involve ensuring purity and the correct chemical make-up at all stages of production.
Working in a laboratory or on a high tech production team is not for everybody. The attractiveness of having a science qualification, preferable a degree in the area can offer a wide range of diverse opportunities. These opportunities are not all based on working in the lab.
The production of drugs and pharmaceuticals can bring great benefits to people. They also have the potential to cause great harm. For that reason it is crucial that all pharmaceutical, medical devices, veterinary and cosmetic products be registered with Governments before they can be marketed for sale.
This regulatory area can offer very exciting career prospects. Working in legal and regulatory affairs involves people preparing all the scientific and technical information to support the product approval process. This must be done both for the local and global markets. Employees need to keep abreast of changes in the law and communicating those changes to management and fellow professionals.
Sales and Marketing
This area includes the sales and marketing of science related products. Scientific products can be complex so that those involved in the marketing, sales and after sales support much have the ability to understand complex technical information and be able to accurately communicate it. This can include dealing with queries on how best to use the product, how to operate the device safely, briefing doctors, patients or customers about new medicines or products that come onto the market.
Scientific Journalism and Documentation
Medical writers are mainly employed by pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. They are required to write reports, which include drug registration, promotional literature, training manuals and scientific studies.
If you have a flair for writing and a strong scientific background, then scientific journalism could offer career possibilities. This type of career would involve a good deal of research, a good scientific degree and a flair for communication and writing.
Forensic Science is the use of science as evidence in a court of law. It includes the study of both chemistry and biology. Some Science Degree courses include a module on this area, while dedicated degrees are also available through a number of ITs around the country.
Teaching and Training
If you enjoy science and would like to communicate your knowledge to the next generation, then a career in teaching may be for you. As well as the normal route into second level teaching by taking a Science degree followed by a H.Dip (Higher Diploma) there are a number of specialist courses now available to train science teachers. The continued expansion of the IT sector also offers teaching possibilities.
Getting into the Chemical, Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sector
There are a very wide range of third level courses available to support people that wish to make a career in this sector in Ireland. Degree courses (Level 8 Honours Degrees) offered in Irish Universities and Institutes of Technology (IoTs) throughout the country provide you with a sound general grounding in chemistry and biology.
Some more specialised courses will focus on topics of relevance to the design and production of new medicinal compounds and the understanding of their biological actions. Many of these degree courses have a period of full-time paid employment in a pharmaceutical or chemical company as part of the course.
Institutes of Technology offer a wide range of Level 6 Cert and Level 7 Degree courses that emphasise the practical skills of getting hands on experience in the laboratory.
Engineering Careers - Download the 2013 Engineering Sector Overview from gradireland.com
Useful Career Sheets from STEPS to Engineering [pdf files]
Click here to explore STEM career options in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.
For Pharma companies globally, the expiry of patents is of key concern, however, the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland shows no sign of contracting anytime soon.
Research and development continues to play a significant role as the sector shifts towards personalised healthcare with targeted therapeutic interventions, leading toward growth in innovative delivery mechanisms, companion diagnostics, niche busters and an increase in biologics.
The latest EFSGN report (February 2014) highlights an acute need for Technicians and Senior Process Scientists and Engineers with specific skills to serve the need of the fast-growing biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector including: Biotechnology Skills, Bioprocess Analytical Technology and Data Analytics, Regulatory Affairs in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management.
Cross Enterprise Skills Needs
The most recent EGFSN Report additionally highlights a number of areas of skills in demand that are apparent across all sectors. These include:
- Data analytics skills
- Entrepreneurial competencies
- Skills for creativity, innovation and design
- Management skills and
- Generic skills such communications and team working
Source: Guidance for Higher Education providers on current and future skills needs of enterprise - Springboard 2014/ICT Level 8 Conversion Programme, EFGSN, February 2014. Click here to view report.