Plastic to your guns…

The production of chemicals, plastics and other polymers is an altogether different kind of manufacturing. Here, chemical scientists and chemical engineers join factory floor workers, maintenance technicians and production managers to produce incredibly complex products.

If you pursue a career in this area, your stomping ground is much more likely going to be a large chemical plant than a factory with a series of conveyor belts. Furthermore, if you choose to get into the research and development side of things, you will be working in a laboratory rather than on a busy factory floor.

Why is it important? What does it involve?

The products that are generated by this area of manufacturing and production are vital to tons of different industries, from construction and agriculture to automotive production.

You could be using your expertise to produce cleaning products, such as bleach and soap; you could be producing fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals that will be used by the nation’s farms; or you could be producing paints, adhesives and putties that allow the nation’s properties to be constructed. Alternatively, you could be producing plastic products that are used by the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) industry, or you could even get involved with the creation of inks and coloured dyes.

Another area of chemical manufacturing focuses on the production of medicines and pharmaceutical products. For more detail on this area of manufacturing, check out the Pharmaceuticals subsector here!

Chemical, plastics and polymer production is not just about producing finished products that can go straight to market. It’s also about the production of basic chemicals and synthetic materials that can be used in other areas of manufacturing and production.

The production of potentially hazardous chemicals means that jobs in this area may require you to work in a fairly dangerous environment. However, all chemical plants implement and enforce appropriate safety measures and procedures to protect their employees. Essentially, you are more likely to be wearing a protective body suit to work (complete with breathing apparatus!) than an expensive suit and tie.

Break it down for me a little bit!

The production of chemicals, plastics and polymers is entirely dependent on research and development departments. This is where chemical scientists come into play. These guys work in laboratories, conduct research and carry out complex experiments. They use their scientific knowledge to work out the equations that will serve as the basis for the design and development process.

Once the scientific research has been carried out, the chemical engineers get involved. These guys use their scientific knowledge and technical skills to actively design and develop chemical processes and equipment that will refine existing chemicals and create new amazing products.

The samples or prototypes produced by these chemical engineers will be thoroughly tested and inspected by a team of chemical scientists. The chemical processes and equipment that have been designed will then be adapted and refined until the finished product is fully-optimised.

To work as a chemical scientist or chemical engineer in this line of work, you will need to have a relevant degree in a subject such as biotechnology, chemistry or chemical engineering. An undergraduate degree is pretty much essential; however, most scientists and engineers are likely to have a relevant MSc or PhD too.

If you want to break into this line of work without a degree, you could undertake an apprenticeship scheme or study an HND that is related to mechanical engineering and become a maintenance technician. These people are responsible for maintaining all the complex machinery involved in the production process, making sure that everything works properly and making repairs where necessary.

Other people work as part of the general factory floor staff, packing finished products ready for distribution and transporting chemicals around the plant using trucks and other pieces of apparatus.

It goes without saying that if you work in this area, you will need to be trained extensively in how to handle hazardous chemicals. If you like the sound of danger, however, a career in chemicals, plastics and polymers manufacturing could be right up your street!

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