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Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

  • 1.  Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    2017 35 Under 35 Winner
    Posted 01-11-2018 14:58
    Innovation in chemical engineering often involves fusing the field with new influences, e.g. from computer science, materials, biomedical engineering, etc. What remains the core of the chemical engineering discipline?

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    Ruth Misener
    Senior Lecturer and EPSRC Early Career Fellow
    Imperial College London
    London
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  • 2.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    Posted 01-11-2018 21:22
    Edited by Gregory Fieldson 01-11-2018 21:22
    I would suggest that the fusion often happens when the core chemical engineering discipline is applied into the cross-disciplinary area. I think of areas like thermodynamics, mass and energy transport, and process as core disciplines.
      Bringing a sound and fundamental understanding of thermodynamics to disciplines like biological sciences can provide insight into subjects like protein folding. Pharmaceutical sciences, from transdermal delivery to extended release implants have all been developed using the tools derived from chemical engineering's mass transport approaches. I think a lot of complex system modeling, including in silicon models of metabolic pathways, incorporate concepts that are central to chemical engineering process design.

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    Gregory Fieldson
    Vice President
    TOLMAR Inc.
    Fort Collins CO
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  • 3.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-11-2018 22:44
    Material and Energy Balances
    Thermodynamics
    Heat Transfer
    Fluid Flow
    Mass Transfer
    Kinetics and Reactor Design
    Process Safety

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    Steve Cutchen
    Investigator
    US Chemical Safety Board
    Houston TX
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  • 4.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    LOCAL SECTION OFFICER
    Posted 01-13-2018 14:51
    Steve,

    We are on the same page.  I would add Unit Operations and Unit Processes.  To me, the key element that distinguishes ChE from other disciplines  is Diffusional Operations.

    Emmett Miller, PE

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    Emmett Miller PE, FAIChE
    Consulting Engineer
    Emmett R Miller, PE
    Lafayette CA
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  • 5.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-12-2018 01:00
    Many successful innovations that combine different unit operations/unit processes in a single equipment are now common knowledge. These include Reactive Distillation, Reactive Extraction, etc. These multi-functional reactors (innovations) have the potential of decreasing the capital (also operating) costs by an order of magnitude. This discipline known as Process Intensification works within the broad field of ChE without borrowing much from outside. The only thing that you may need is a computer to run a model based (involving kinetics of the unit process and mass/heat transfer rates) computer program to predict the equipment size, energy consumption, etc.
    This is not to belittle Ruth's argument in support of borrowing ideas from outside ChE. Let there be free flow of good ideas/concepts from wherever possible but let us not ignore what we can do staying within traditional ChE boundaries.

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    Vishwas Pangarkar PhD
    Retired Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Mumbai, India.
    Currently: Independent Chemical Engineering Academic/Professional.
    Nasik-422013, India.
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  • 6.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-12-2018 03:18
    Ruth,
    I don't think that innovation changes the core or principles of chemical engineering. These principles remain immutable based as they are in science and the properties of materials. Innovation changes the or adds to the applications for chemical engineering in  my view.

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    Simon Richards CEng,EurIng
    Principal Consultant
    Bosco Xavier Ltd
    Andover
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  • 7.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 01-12-2018 11:30
    Core chemical engineering curriculum includes classes of mathematics and organic chemistry.  Application of theoretical models and equations to various large macroscopic chemical equipment and comparison to microscopic laboratory chemical equipment operation. Using hypothesis and statistics and the different laws and phenomena observed on laboratory microscopic boundary to pilot intermediate boundary to macroscopic production sizes to model and predict outcomes or new chemical products.  Usually a new product is discovered, patented or synthesized on the laboratory or microscopic scale but the same exact route or equipment is not feasible on a large macroscopic mass volume production scale.  Many people from different disciplines team up to determine the odds and realistic fesability to manufacture a new chemical or polymer and its marketability and customer base.  The objective is to make money with your chemical engineering products during your career and not get stuck in a dead end or a product that loses money or hurts consumers.

    Regards,
    Lisa Maria Mueller
    BSChE
    ME
    Tau Beta Pi OH K '88


    Sent from my LG Mobile





  • 8.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    FELLOW
    Posted 02-08-2018 11:08
    Please talk to chemical engineering practitioners in the CPI.  Recent comments that I have heard from 4-5 chemical engineers in leadership roles with their companies say that " ... the average time for a current BS graduate to 'contribute' (earn his/her salary) in the CPI has gone from 3-6 months (1970's) to 2-3 years (2010's)."  When asked what they felt the contributing factors were to this change, the prevailing responses centered around understanding the importance of material & energy balances, how units operate, and the physical and economic impact of suggested design/operating changes to chemical processes.  The fundamental principle of including opportunities for students to learn from "failed" efforts is a close second.  The old unit ops lab was the place where both of these areas were forged.  It is far safer and cheaper for engineers to learn from failure in college than in industry.

    There is no doubt that additional knowledge is needed for current ChE students to do well in those career pathways that require a heavier interface with the sciences; biology, pre-medical, and perhaps even a greater level of chemistry.  Where these areas were usually handled in advanced college level coursework (leaving the already crowded fundamental ChE curriculum alone), the current trends that are cause for some concern to me are:
    (1).  allowing 1-2 years highly advanced, college level high school coursework to count toward required major college credit
    (2).  allowing dual credit pathways for BS/MS level cross-over courses in the undergraduate programs
    (3).  allowing substitution of non-fundamental courses with courses in the interface fields under the guise that the student will not seek a career path in the CPI; but actually do because career plans change between the freshman and senior year.

    The issues are further complicated by programs to enhance STEM interests (which often translate to advanced coursework in high school to attract bright students) and selling better opportunities in the "sexier" fields without proper explanation of job opportunities upon graduation by someone who knows the industry.

    This is not to say that current bright high school and BS students can't perform well in these advanced cross-over courses.  Many seem to do that based on grades and admission statistics.  But is every 16-17 year old high school student have the discipline or the depth of understanding needed to understand the importance of fundamental concepts in the BS curriculum and how they relate to career success?  From experience, 2000 era seniors that I have taught in a process/plant design course had trouble; not with advanced ChE materials, but rather with material and energy balances involving chemical reactions.  Nearly half of the design class lectures was needed to make sure IN = OUT so that good numbers could be used to make the proper design calculations and the corresponding economic analyses needed to assess the value and effectiveness of their work.  The term GIGO; garbage in = garbage out was the class motto after week 2.

    Its time to look seriously at the curriculum and make some hard choices about what is "fundamentally" important to the BS undergraduate ChE degree program.   Talk to the industry as well as academe.  Often times professors, like myself, get so involved with our particular fields of interest that the fundamentals slip out of view.  All professors should have an interest in the undergraduate program.  Universities should elevate the undergraduate program to the same level of recognition and reward that is given to outstanding research programs.  There is nothing second class about being recognized as one of the top 10 undergraduate degree programs; or to be a contributing professor in that program.

    The fundamental understanding of what a chemical engineer should be expected to do is a project worth defining.  Where better to do that than in the AIChE.

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    Gary April
    Professor & Head Emeritus
    University of Alabama
    Tuscaloosa Alabama
    gcapril@eng.ua.edu
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  • 9.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    FELLOW
    Posted 02-09-2018 10:04
    Gary,
       Your discussion on the lengthening time (from 2-3 months to 2-3 years) it takes for a newly minted chemical engineer to become productive in industry hit a hot button with me (and others) . I would agree with your observation - which is fairly accurate regarding the pharmaceutical industry in which I spent my 35 year career. In fairness, some of this 2-3 year time is the time needed to understand all the cGMP requirements associated with an FDA regulated industry, but, regardless, your observation is well taken.   I would remind readers of this AiChE discussion that, as part of the solution, that Prof. Tom Edgar (U. of Texas) and I co-authored an article in CEP in November of 2017 suggesting that academia revamp some of their chemical engineering core courses (e.g., process control, separations, design project, etc.) to make them more in line with the needs of their principle constituency, which is industry. This is a data driven article (supported by surveys, etc.).  Anyway, the problem you mentioned is real- and as long as academia is unwilling to do anything about modernizing certain of their core courses, industry has no choice but to spend more and more time in training their new employees, sending them to various vendor schools, etc., in order to fill in the many gaps that currently exist between what they are being taught in chemical engineering curriculums and the needs of industry. As an example, almost all chemical engineers interviewed indicate that they have never used over half of what they were taught in their process control course (e.g., Laplace transforms,  Bode plots, Routh and Nyquist stability criteria, etc.). That makes sense since what is taught in process control courses continues to assume that processes are linear and operating continuously at or near steady state -  which doesn't apply to about half the processes in industry - which are, e.g.,  non-linear,  batch, and non-continuous.
    It seems to us that academia and industry both need to contribute to educating graduates so that they become productive as quickly as practical when they enter industry. We think industry, by necessity, is doing their part. We challenge academia to do the same.   We have heard from many professors and chemical engineers since the Nov. CEP article was published, all of whom support the content and conclusions in the article. Therefore, there is now on-going efforts to republish the article in other journals.  If readers of this discussion forum agree with the article (i.e., that academia needs to modernize some of their core chemical engineering courses), make your views known to your alma mater.  There is also an AIChE Education and Accreditation Committee that can perhaps can help if they feel the need for change is wide-spread.  Be aware that there is resistance from academia. Many, if not most, chemical engineering programs are part of research dominated departments - and professors are mostly interested in doing new research - which is where they get some of their funding (e.g., from the NSF) and which results in publications (and the well known paradigm is that professors need to publish or perish). So modernizing undergraduate chemical engineering courses does not rank very high on their priority list and is not something perceived as contributing to their promotion,  reward, and recognition opportunities.  So, we in industry have to be a more vocal voice for change.

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    Joseph Alford
    Zionsville IN
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  • 10.  RE: Remnants of Chemican Engineering's Core Discipline

    FELLOW
    Posted 02-10-2018 09:37
    I saw the article.  This item has been a concern for quite some time.  It didn't resurface for me until recently when I ran into my last PhD student who is now leading tech projects in the CPI.   A rational discussion among academic and industrial ChE's is necessary, but finding the right folks who can see each view in a clear and unbiased way is very difficult to find.  It's as if the Republican and Democrats of DC have infused there ideology of "our way or the highway" into ChE higher education.  There must be compromises made, but those compromises must come after there is some agreement (hopefully) on a core of common principles.  The fundamental courses (whatever they may be) must be the starting point.  Who in the profession is open-minded enough to see the needs of both beneficiaries of our educational process?  It most certainly appears that a joint effort between industry and academe is needed to address this issue -- and it is an issue.  All of the groups you mention should have a vested interest in addressing solutions to these problems.

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    Gary April
    Professor & Head Emeritus
    University of Alabama
    Tuscaloosa Alabama
    gcapril@eng.ua.edu
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