Digital literacy for chemical engineers

Industry 4.0 and digital technologies are impacting how chemical engineers work and what they work on. It means chemical engineers need to be become competent in the widespread application of machine data, artificial intelligence, process automation and control, and more.

Therefore, IChemE’s Learned Society Committee (LSC) deemed digitalisation one of the priority topics for the Institution to focus upon a learned society for chemical engineers and managed by IChemE’s member-led Digitalisation Technical Advisory Group (DigiTAG). We must help share this knowledge among the membership and chemical engineering community to enable improvements in capabilities and the responsible application of digital tools to benefit the wider profession and society as a whole.

In a feature article in The Chemical Engineer three IChemE members explain why digital literacy is so important.

The authors are Esther Ventura-Medina, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, UK, and Chair of our Education Special Interest Group (SIG); and Joanne Tanner, a Lecturer at Monash University, Australia, and Brent Young, a Professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, both members of DigiTAG.

“We need to raise awareness among the chemical engineering community of the importance of digital literacy.” This was the clear message from the three authors.

So, they decided to look at the range of digitalisation skills and technologies relevant to chemical engineering, and provide an overview of some of the education options and the work that is already under way.

They look at the DigiComp 2.0 Framework published by the European Commission, which has five main areas of digital competencies (see picture). The authors acknowledge one critical element missing that the DigiTAG has identified is from this framework: ethical and responsible digitalisation leadership.

This, they say, is a key skill that chemical engineers need, particularly in responsible production or major hazards management, the two other LSC priority topics.

In the article, they discuss the challenges of how to prepare chemical engineering students and tailor the curriculum for different roles within the work environment, citing the differences between roles across career levels, and similarities and differences across industry sectors.

They look at a survey of the University of Auckland alumni which “probed the industrial needs for digitalisation education in chemical engineering and reported overwhelmingly that elements of digitalisation are already influencing the chemical engineering industry and chemical engineers’ job functions, and that these influences are likely to get stronger over time”.

The authors report on the findings from the alumni as well as the academic staff, who were surveyed for their opinions to reflect that the requirements found can be satisfied in the future curriculum through a dual approach:

  • integrating digitalisation content into core courses – such as developing digital models in process control and design subjects
  • and developing standalone electives for advanced applications – such as digital twins development or advanced process analytical technology applications.

What was clear to the authors from analysing this survey, was that: “Digitalisation skills should be part of lifelong learning for chemical engineers: skills that need to be continuously developed from undergraduate programmes right through careers to the end of professional life.”

They share how the DigiTAG’s Digitalisation Skills Matrix that is being developed for continuous learning will help address this.

Read the full article by Esther Ventura-Medina, Joanne Tanner and Brent Young to learn more about the survey findings and how IChemE’s DigiTAG is supporting differing needs for digital literacy in The Chemical Engineer.

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