Mind the Gap

Article by Mohammad Zandi AMIChemE, Jarka Glassey CEng FIChemE and Brent Young CEng FIChemE

Mo Zandi, Jarka Glassey and Brent Young discuss the emergence of Chemical Engineering Education 4.0

WE can all agree on the fact that engineering graduates have a strategic and long-term impact on quality and productivity growth in industry and service sectors. And in order to produce high quality products and services that are price competitive, we need a high number of qualified and highly-skilled engineering graduates that are well trained to respond to constantly changing needs. However, as academics, employers often tell us we need to prepare future graduates to adopt and integrate current and new skillsets such as digitalisation.

We designed two surveys for chemical engineering experts in industry and academia: the first to understand what skillsets are most important, and the second, to gather opinions on the level of knowledge and skills of current chemical engineering students and graduates. Many of the experts emphasised that digitalisation and computing skills are their primary concern for the future of chemical and process engineering, and require immediate attention.

The world has undergone three industrial revolutions, and the fourth – one known as Industry 4.0 – is now upon us. Industry 4.0 focuses on digital manufacturing and digitalisation of all sectors of industries and commerce. Climate change, Covid-19 and conflicts are currently the three biggest challenges for industry, and Industry 4.0 has the potential to drastically transform various industries and production techniques to meet these challenges.

It is founded on information and communication technologies – including initiatives such as the Industrial Internet, Factories of The Future, Internet of Things, Physical Internet, Internet of Services, and Cyber-Physical Systems – in order to achieve a high degree of flexibility in production; higher productivity through real-time monitoring and diagnosis; and a lower wastage of material in production, which contribute to the drive towards net zero carbon emissions. Manufacturers prioritise digital performance management, real-time supply chain optimisation, digital quality management, remote monitoring and control, predictive maintenance, and smart energy consumption. The changes these opportunities bring with them are the cause of significant changes in the job market and will change the portfolio of jobs available in the future.

Climate change, Covid-19 and conflicts are currently the three biggest challenges for industry, and Industry 4.0 has the potential to drastically transform various industries and production techniques to meet these challenges

Engineers are the backbone of industrial development, and they need to pick up these new technologies more quickly than has been necessary in the past to accelerate needed digital transformation. However, our recent investigations show that it seems there is an inertia in the process industries to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies due to the shortage of digitalisation skills, and this has become a major concern for both industry and academics (see Figures 1 and 2). Currently, many practising engineers and academics teach themselves the required digital skills on the job, or digital projects are outsourced. This means that there are some serious lags before such technologies have the opportunity to proliferate, and therefore the lack of suitable digitalisation and computing skills to address current and impending challenges is hampering industry progress.

Figure 1: Comparing normalised accumulative scores out of one by academia and industry for five core skills essential for the future of chemical & process (including formulated products & health care) engineering and manufacturing. Both groups scored 0.78 out of one for digitalisation and computing skills expressing their major concern for it. In contrast, the data suggests that industry is less concerned about team working and leadership skills compared to the academics
Figure 2: 78% of the participants from the industry indicated that teaching digitalisation and computing skills in chemical engineering programmes are of high priority

Article By

Mohammad Zandi AMIChemE

Professor at Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Sheffield


Jarka Glassey CEng FIChemE

Professor at the School of Engineering, Newcastle University


Brent Young CEng FIChemE

Professor and Chair of Food and Process Systems Engineering at The University of Auckland


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