A bioprocess engineer analyzes and develops the systems used to manufacture biological products. Most bioprocess engineers work in agricultural research and development companies and food processing plants, though some professionals are employed by biotechnology firms, alternative fuel manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies. By careful experimentation and observation, a bioprocess engineer works to improve efficiency, worker safety, and product quality. The profession is constantly changing as new technologies and regulations are implemented in industrial workplaces.
It is important for a bioprocess engineer to have extensive knowledge of chemical and mechanical engineering principles in order to determine the best means of improving production. He or she also needs to be familiar with microbiology and the potential applications of organic materials in a particular industry. Math, computer, and communication skills are vital to the job as well, as professionals must perform detailed calculations and present their findings to supervisors to demonstrate the efficacy of their new designs.
Depending on the specific work setting, a bioprocess engineer might spend most of his or her time in a sophisticated laboratory or in a large, bustling manufacturing plant. A lab engineer experiments with different biochemicals, such as those used in pharmaceuticals, observing their effects on bacteria or viruses under a microscope. A professional in a manufacturing plant might analyze the existing machinery and techniques used to make products, and determine if they can be tweaked to increase production.
A bioprocess engineer who works at a food processing plant is likely to split his or her time between a lab and the plant floor. The engineer investigates preservatives, additives, nutrients, and other ingredients to determine if they could be used to improve the quality or shelf-life of certain foods. He or she also analyzes the methods of production to ensure that federal food safety standards are met.
A person who wants to become a bioprocess engineer usually needs to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher in the specialty or a related major, such as chemical, industrial, or agricultural engineering. New workers begin their careers as junior-level or assistant engineers, learning on-the-job skills from experienced professionals. With several years of experience and continuing education, an individual can take a national licensing exam to earn official credentials and enjoy opportunities for advancement.
A master's or doctoral degree allows a person to become a lead researcher, giving him or her the freedom to design original research projects and supervise teams of junior engineers in their daily work. Some skilled engineers decide to become independent consultants, meeting with many different businesses within the bioprocess industry to help them improve overall operations. In addition, many professionals eventually return to universities to teach courses and conduct more in-depth empirical research.