In our first blog in the Get A Real Job series, we discussed how to become a chemical engineer, common personality traits, and necessary experience to enter the field. We then dug deep into three lucrative career opportunities available to chemical engineers after college graduation. And while the opportunities for chemical engineers in the pulp and paper industry are boundless, there is one that’s getting a lot of attention: Product Development Engineers.

These engineers are in very high demand and are securing jobs with companies all over the world. With an environmental need to steer away from plastic-based products and consumer trends leading to more sustainably made items, Product Development Engineers in the pulp and paper industry are the cool kids on campus.

Product Development Engineer

Required education: Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering
Previous role/experience: Process Engineer
Average annual pay: $89,000 to upward of $122,000+
What you’d do: Product Development Engineers are inventors, expertly trained and specialized in the entire cycle of a product’s development. They come up with an idea, design and build the prototype, test and analyze its quality, and then prepare it for the manufacturing and commercialization phases. Product Development Engineers have their fingers on the pulse of the industry, consumer trends, and new or upcoming technologies.

Product Development Engineers:

  • Build prototypes of their ideas to be tested, manufactured, and sold
  • Direct the development cycle adhering to budgets, timelines, and other constraints
  • Develop product packaging and work with marketing/advertising personnel
  • Collaborate with customers, operations personnel, technical resources, finance, and sales teams to make the product successful

You could be a Product Development Engineer if…

You like to make your ideas come to life. Your imagination and creativity not only help companies become more efficient and provide safer working conditions, but your ideas and products will help protect the planet. Product Development Engineers are trailblazers working to replace and limit plastic products in the world.

What types of skills do Product Development Engineers have?

Aside from a general interest in mathematics, science, physics, and engineering principles, Product Development Engineers are inherently curious and enjoy figuring out how and why things function. They are always learning, are natural problem solvers and have brilliant imaginations.

What types of products have Product Development Engineers created?

These highly skilled engineers have created and manufactured many sustainable products you are already familiar with. Consider these once-plastic and now cellulose-based products:

  • Paper-based coffee cups
  • Cellulose-based cup lids
  • Eyeglasses frames
  • Food packaging and films
  • Biodegradable straws
  • Fiber sheets (heavy-duty fabrics used in belts, shoes, curtains, bags)
  • Welding electrodes
  • Components in batteries and other electronics (and emerging in bioelectronics and biosensors)

What companies in the pulp and paper industry hire Product Development Engineers?

Of course, there are more opportunities out there than those listed below, but here are four companies currently hiring for this role:

  • Georgia-Pacific based in Atlanta, Georgia with locations in 30 states
  • Graphic Packaging based in Atlanta, Georgia with 93 locations in 15 countries
  • International Paper based in Memphis, Tennessee with 200 locations in the United States (and one location in Auburn, Maine) and 23 plants in five countries
  • WestRock based in Atlanta, Georgia with 320 manufacturing facilities, design centers, research labs, and sales offices in 10 countries around the world

Check out these two available positions with WestRock, a Product Dev Innovation Lead in Atlanta and a Packaging Development Engineer/Scientist in Richmond, Virginia. Consider the following:

  1. What’s different about the postings? What’s similar?
  2. How do the roles benefit the company?
  3. What skills, knowledge, and experience from your engineering classes and co-op/internships would benefit you in this role?

Hear it straight from alumni!

“My company relies on Product Development Engineers to create the products that allow us to succeed both in today’s market and for many years to come. It’s all about developing what’s new, what’s next, what’s better.

Developing sustainable, fiber-based packaging products is a key focus area for our industry. Designing products that have the functionality of plastics (water, oxygen, moisture vapor, nitrogen, and/or aroma barriers, for example) yet, unlike plastics are fully re-pulpable, recyclable, and biodegradable is extremely rewarding.

I enjoy being a Product Development Engineer not only because I’m directly involved with the current and future success of my company, but also because I get to work with nearly all aspects of my company from Manufacturing to Sales & Marketing to Finance to Purchasing and the vendors that supply our raw materials.”

– Aaron Hart, ’95 CHE and UMPPF alum, Product Development Manager, Pixelle Speciality Solutions*

“In Product Development, you get to work with a wide cross-section of people. You are responsible for pulling in the right resources from sales, marketing, manufacturing, your customers, and other technical resources to be successful.

A Product Development professional helps bring new opportunities forward and make them realities. You shepherd a project from an idea or concept all the way to a commercial item. This is done by knocking down barriers to technical and business feasibility—figuring out ways to make the product that have never been solved before. That could include applying newer sustainable materials, incorporating different manufacturing processes, or creating a completely different end-use application.

Product Development careers provide people opportunities to be involved across the technical spectrum from benchtop R&D to full-scale machine optimization. Outside of the technical space, you get involved with really interesting marketing and commercial aspects. On what basis will the product be successful? Why will people want your product over others? What are the necessary product requirements that need to be designed?”

– Mike Farrington, ’92 CHE and UMPPF alum, VP of Product Innovation and Pulp Sales, Verso Corporation

With increased demand for plastic-free products and the discontinued use of other harmful ingredients and materials, Product Development Engineers have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create change on a global scale by creating sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

Product Development Engineers have highly coveted skills that can lead them to a fulfilling and successful career path. They must be curious and creative, logical and measured, determined and open minded, but above all they want to create products that will benefit workers, companies, consumers and the planet.

Your skills and experience as a Product Development Engineer are in high demand and job opportunities are expected to keep growing. This is a highly rewarding career path for a chemical engineer!

*To work alongside alumni and other industry professionals, take a look at the available positions at Pixelle by visiting their careers page.