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What Are the Duties of Chemical Engineers in the Soap Industry?

by Bob Kelly

Chemical engineers train to design, develop and operate chemical operations that manufacture products. Their specialty may focus on a diverse range of products or particular chemicals. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary of a chemical engineer in 2010 was $90,300. Chemical engineers can work in many companies that convert raw material to finished products. These companies fall in industries such as oil and gas, energy, food and drinks, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. They also work in the soap industry, which includes companies that make soap, detergents, and refined and crude glycerin from animal and vegetable fats.

Design and Process Set-Up

Chemical engineers work closely with control engineers to design and set up equipment and processes to transform basic raw materials into finished products. They calculate and outline equipment specifications and design manufacturing procedures. The process involves calculating the amount of raw materials needed to produce a soap or detergent, the amount of energy required for the process, as well as conducting cost, safety and environmental analyses. Using data for a new soap or detergent from the laboratory and quality-assurance department, they review new processes and take corrective measures to ensure soap or detergent-making processes are performing optimally. For example, if there is leaking equipment, the company can incur losses resulting from excessive waste. If the machines produce a bar soap that dissolves too fast in water, it will not be long-lasting or cost-effective for the consumer.

Research and Development

The soap industry is constantly evolving to meet changing consumer demands and environmental requirements. Whether it is a detergent or soap, businesses are also constantly searching for new formulations and packaging techniques to keep up with competition. Chemical engineers work on seeking new and more efficient materials and processes to improve production and quality. For example, a company might want to make soap that lathers faster or substitute one raw material for a cheaper or more available option. The engineers also perform cost analysis of new plants, process expansion and lab experiments to determine viability and sustainability of a new product or production process.

Process Operations

Soap companies have several technical processes such as heating, cooling and purification. Chemical engineers are involved in process operations through monitoring production parameters such as output and quality; calculating energy efficiency; trouble-shooting and diagnosing technical problems. They also review existing methods of production for consumer safety, environmental friendliness and technology sustainability. For example, if a detergent contains a high level of harsh chemicals such as acid, it can be harmful to the skin and the environment. If a company’s water-treatment system is not efficient, it can attract penalties and fines from authorities.

Process Support

Another important duty of chemical engineers in a soap-making company is to offer support to other departments to help them make well-informed decisions. They provide output information to stores and sales departments. Through direct coordination with plant operators, they schedule maintenance procedures. Their feasibility and cost-analysis reports allow management to budget and predict profitability.

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