Product and process development scientists are concerned with improving the efficiency and profitability of the manufactured products that we use every day

Manufacturing companies need development scientists to understand and control the processes used to make a diverse range of products, including food, medicine, cosmetics and paint.

Development science is divided into two roles - process and product development.

Working as a scientist in process development, you'll aim to optimise the performance of manufacturing systems. You'll do this by identifying and developing new processes for product manufacture, and implementing process controls to ensure the products are of a high quality and produced in a way that can be accurately replicated.

Working as a scientist in product development, you'll work with research scientists to develop new ideas and make scientific discoveries. Your work will aid the manufacture of new products and improve existing ones.

Responsibilities

As a product/process development scientist, you'll need to carry out the following tasks:

In process development, you'll:

  • devise new processes, or refine existing ones, to optimise the manufacturing process
  • plan, carry out and supervise process trials in laboratories, pilot plants or factories
  • scale up the production process via plant trials, making changes to raw materials or components, and process parameters to ensure quality is maintained during large-scale production
  • improve yields by reducing costs, e.g. investigating alternative materials or new machinery to improve efficiency and quality in bottleneck areas
  • devise test methods to assess the production process
  • validate new processes and show that they're an improvement
  • work with product pipelines at various stages of development
  • develop formulae, specifications and label declarations, and ensure compliance with the finished product specifications
  • advise on equipment modification to enable process changes for new product development
  • read and write technical reports and specifications, maintaining appropriate records
  • initiate and generate ideas based on reading and research.

In product development, you'll:

  • formulate and establish product design and performance objectives, normally in consultation with other functions, including research, marketing and production, as well as contractors, suppliers and customers
  • respond to customer requirements, liaising with suppliers of raw materials and resolving production problems
  • conduct test protocols and procedures and product evaluation
  • transfer new technologies across a range of product categories
  • write technical reports and cost estimates, documenting development work and implementing profit improvement programmes
  • generate data to substantiate claims regarding the safety and efficiency of new products (this applies particularly to the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector)
  • oversee the integration of new products with other commercial areas, including brand development, sales strategy, quality assurance, legal, marketing and manufacturing.
  • Both job roles can involve presenting ideas to senior staff, training and supervising new team members or more junior staff, and reading trade press or attending conferences to keep up to date with industry developments.

Both job roles can involve presenting ideas to senior staff, training and supervising new team members or more junior staff, and reading trade press or attending conferences to keep up to date with industry developments.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for product/process development scientists are in the region of £22,000 to £30,000.
  • With experience, development scientists can progress to salaries of £32,000 to £40,000.
  • Senior development scientists with substantial experience working at a high level can expect to earn between £52,000 and £65,000+.

Salaries vary according to geographical location, sector and size of organisation. Obtaining relevant postgraduate qualifications may lead to higher salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm. Extra hours may be required on some occasions and may be more irregular during critical development phases or when problems arise.

What to expect

  • The working environment varies depending on the nature of the job but may include a plant or factory floor, laboratory or office.
  • Depending on your duties, protective clothing - including headwear and glasses - may be required.
  • The work can be stressful at times, for example when launching a new production line, overseeing several projects running concurrently or meeting a tight deadline to fulfil customer requirements.
  • There is frequent contact with research and technical staff, and liaison with customers, suppliers and management.
  • Some travel within the day may be required - this is more usual for process, rather than product, development scientists. Occasional overnight or overseas travel may also be required, but this will depend on the organisation and projects you undertake.

Qualifications

Product/process development scientists are recruited from a range of degree subjects as the workload can be varied, requiring a mixture of skills. The following subjects are particularly relevant:

  • agricultural or horticultural sciences
  • applied life sciences
  • biochemical and biological sciences
  • chemical and physical sciences
  • chemical, process or electrical engineering
  • food science, technology or engineering
  • materials science
  • mechanical and production engineering
  • mineral and mining engineering.

Entry without a degree is unlikely, although it may be possible to enter at a lower level as a technician. A degree or professional qualification would then have to be obtained to progress to the role of development scientist.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but a relevant applied MSc or PhD can be advantageous and will aid future career development. Holding a postgraduate qualification is also likely to increase your earnings.

Information on available funding and studentships for postgraduate study and research can be found at Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

You may be able to enter the career through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This involves working on a project jointly with a company and a 'knowledge base', such as a university or research organisation. It provides the chance to get a professional qualification, be mentored at work and apply your research in a commercial setting.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • good communication skills for effective liaison and teamwork
  • problem-solving skills, analytical skills and attention to detail
  • excellent organisational skills and the ability to work on several tasks or projects concurrently
  • commercial acumen and an awareness of the business value of work undertaken
  • presentation skills - for presenting ideas and findings to colleagues and customers
  • the ability to work well independently, with minimum supervision
  • drive, enthusiasm and self-motivation
  • an aptitude for mathematics and statistics and highly developed IT and technical skills.

Work experience

Experience in a production environment or industrial laboratory, either as vacation work or as a sandwich year placement, will give you an advantage.

Knowledge of good laboratory and manufacturing practice is also helpful.

Employers

Process development scientists work in a range of industrial sectors where raw materials are converted by chemical, biological, physical or technological processes into intermediate and finished products. Product development scientists also work right across the manufacturing sector.

Major employers for both are found in the following industries:

  • biotechnology
  • fine chemicals
  • food
  • pharmaceutical
  • speciality chemicals.

Other employers include manufacturers of toiletries, consumer goods (including cleaning materials) and other materials, such as plastic, glass and metals.

There are more opportunities for work with large employers, where you could be working on a number of different projects at the same time.

Opportunities with smaller employers sometimes offer more responsibility, but may involve working on a narrower range of products or processes.

Look for job vacancies at:

Speculative applications can be effective, especially if sent to large companies who may recruit more frequently.

Professional development

The majority of training in process and product development is done on the job. It includes design, production, plant operation and quality control.

Training will probably be based in the laboratory or workshop at first, with exposure to manufacturing at scale later. If training in manufacturing is given, it will include safety, management and regulatory and compliance issues. Training in a range of generic skills, such as time management and leadership is also usual.

Many companies operate a mentoring system, where a more experienced member of staff offers confidential help and support on a one-to-one basis to a new or less experienced colleague.

You may be selected as a qualified person (QP) in your organisation if you're working in the pharmaceutical industry. This is a crucial role, as the QP is responsible for approving and certifying the release of pharmaceutical products, for use with both humans and animals. This requires specialised training and membership of a relevant professional body. Applications are assessed for QP eligibility by the following organisations:

Your employer may support you in gaining further qualifications, such as a postgraduate or research degree, or a management qualification. Professional qualifications may be obtained through part-time study, self-directed learning or assessment, organised by the appropriate professional body. You may also work towards chartered status with the right experience behind you.

Career prospects

As you gain experience and develop expertise, through working on a variety of projects, you'll gradually take on greater responsibility. This will involve managing larger and higher-profile projects and supervising other members of staff, including scientists and technicians.

Undertaking training and other development activities will help you gain knowledge and keep up to date with best practice and technological advances. You may develop a specific technical specialism or become a specialist in a particular industrial sector.

There are opportunities to move into other production or research and development roles. Some scientists move into business functions or commercial roles. These include:

  • finance
  • IT
  • marketing
  • senior management positions
  • supply chain management
  • technical sales.

If you've been working as a process development scientist, progression to self-employment or freelance work as a consultant may be possible, but only after you've gained a significant amount of experience. There is less scope for this move for scientists in product development, due to the high capital costs involved.