Industrial engineers focus less on making actual things, and more on designing efficient and cost-effective processes. Ever been mesmerised by watching an automatic assembly line at a factory? Well, there’s an industrial engineer to thank for making that work.
They figure out how to use primary resources – people, machines, materials, space, information, and energy – to create streamlined systems with as little waste as possible.
Industrial engineering is a subfield of engineering management that combines a variety of fields and engineering disciplines. These engineers often work in teams with other engineers, technicians, and production staff.
They focus on improving the behind-the-scenes processes used to create a finished, marketable product at the lowest cost, and are often found in manufacturing industries, agriculture, automotives, and many other fields (some may even surprise you).
These engineers design systems to boost productivity, lower manufacturing costs, enhance quality control, guarantee the wellbeing and safety of workers, safeguard the environment, or adhere to legal requirements.
Industrial engineers use a variety of tools and equipment in a day. Some of their tools are the same everyday things you and I have lying around at home: measuring tape, a stopwatch, a digital camera and tripod, a calculator, and of course, a computer.
Some of them are not as common, like a ‘tachometer’ – a tool to measure the speed of a sewing machine’s motor (to find the revolutions per minute).
Traditionally, industrial engineering concentrated on designing assembly line layouts and increasing productivity. However, some of the most accomplished industrial engineers’ contributions continue to have an influence on organisational performance and efficiency, today. Some examples include:
Henry Ford is one of the most famous industrial engineers, known for setting up the first moving assembly line for the manufacture of an entire vehicle. Through his invention, the time it took to build a car went from over 12 hours to only 2.5 hours.
Tim Cook cut Apple’s primary suppliers from 100 to 24, closed 10 warehouses, and eventually reduced inventory from six months’ to two days’ worth. As a result, the time it took to construct an Apple computer was halved!
Lillian Gilbreth invented industrial management techniques still used today. She and her husband, Frank, became experts in the psychology of time management and the technical aspects of worker efficiency. Lillian optimised the design of kitchens and home appliances, and developed methods to assist disabled women with everyday household chores.
Industrial engineering is increasingly using the Internet of Things, and it looks as if this trend will continue and grow in the future. This will bring together workers, equipment, supplies, information, and more, to develop even better and faster procedures.
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