Chemical operators, also known as chemical plant and system operators, commonly work in manufacturing plants. They focus on improving the quality and safety of products, such as paints, cosmetics, tires and pharmaceuticals. On a daily basis, they monitor production processes that involve chemical reactions and operate production equipment. This career is ideal for professionals who are passionate about science and technology.
Doing the Work
Chemical operators need a combination of strong technical and math skills to perform their duties competently. For example, they rely on these skills to set up and prepare production equipment and accurately measure and calculate the weight of raw materials. Chemical operators must be able to carefully follow instructions and have good eyesight to note visible changes in the chemical and physical properties of chemical reaction. Teamwork skills are also important to these operators, as they need to collaborate with other production workers.
The main responsibility of chemical operators is to ready equipment, such as distillers, reactor vessels and steam-jacketed kettles, for production. They usually inspect the equipment before the production process begins to ensure that they are set up correctly. During production, they operate the control boards, often checking instrument readings and making adjustments to regulate various aspects, including temperature and pressure. They also add chemicals or raw materials to converters. After production, they supervise the cleaning of the production equipment and inform supervisors of any necessary repairs.
Away from the manufacturing process, chemical operators may conduct laboratory tests on samples of a finished product to check whether it meets required industry standards. During emergencies, they may collaborate with industrial production engineers to shut down a facility and initiate recovery procedures. Chemical operators also advise industrial production managers on improving production processes and product yields; train workers on health and safety practices; and recommend equipment purchases.
Although employers often hire chemical operators with a high school diploma and train them on the job, the automation of production processes has led to a demand for professional qualifications. You may need to earn at least an associate’s degree in chemical technology or a closely related field to get hired at some companies. After working for two to three years, you can secure a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering to become a production engineer. Earning a further business degree can be a springboard to a production manager’s job.
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