Industrial Engineering

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The Development of Industrial Engineering

A hundred years ago, Frederick W. Taylor was developing his theory of scientific management as the world, and in particular the United States, was moving from an agrarian economy to a production economy. Taylor's scientific management principles, in some forms, persist today, and, although they have been and remain controversial, there is no doubt that his initial studies into the "science of work" were attempts at solving some of the same problems that face industrial engineers today. Central to the discipline of industrial engineering are two themes: the interfaces among people and machines within systems, and the analysis of systems leading to improved performance. These issues motivated Taylor, and they motivate us today.

Thirty years later we find Frank and Lillian Gilbreth refining Taylor's principles with new focus on the human components of systems. Lillian Gilbreth was to continue their work, making it her work following Frank's death, into the 1970's. At about the same time, at Western Electric Co., Walter Shewhart was developing his own theories, concerning variation in materials, that led to their refinement in what we now know as statistical process control. Shortly after that, a young W. Edwards Deming was beginning his lifelong commitment to the application of statistics in continuous improvement of systems.

What do all of these people have in common? While they come from a variety of disciplines, they were pioneers in what is today known as industrial engineering. What they have in common is their study of human-centered engineered systems. This was the basis of our profession at its origin, and, although the form of the study has evolved, it is the basis of our profession today. In a sense, the industrial revolution has continued into the industrial evolution. While philosophers and economists can debate the relative impact of the semiconductor versus the steam driven factory, there is no doubt that our modern production and service systems are developing rapidly. As other engineers foster advances through innovative new technologies, industrial engineers deal with those technologies in their implementation and use. As these technological advances are made, industrial engineering is evolving to keep pace with their use.

From: The Development of Modern Industrial Engineering,
by D. L. Kimbler, Ph.D., P.E.,Department of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University
[Printed in ENGINEERING HORIZONS, Spring 1995. A Peterson's/COG Publication.
Posted electronically with permission.]


3 Major Themes

Although its origins were in mechanical engineering, and were primarily concerned with physical systems, industrial engineering has broadened considerably in the past two decades. As it has broadened in its application, however, three themes persist in the fundamental science of industrial engineering.

Supply Chain Optimization and Logistics

The dynamic nature of the flow of materials. The study of the principles of material flow arises from our origins in production systems, and continues to be a major component of industrial engineering, from flow in a factory to distribution of goods.

Human Factors and Ergonomics

Ergonomics, overlays the other two, as it has developed from Frank Gilbreth's experiments with brick laying to the design of human-computer interfaces and the design of human work environments.

Educational Learning Systems

The dynamic flow of information. Whether we are trying to improve the flow of packets in a communications network, the flow of information units between Internet users, or the flow of managerial decisions in a business enterprise, we find that this more recent evolution of industrial engineering can still be approached using the fundamental mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences.

Other recent developments in industrial engineering have more to do with developments in all engineering disciplines. The recent resurgence of interest in quality, for example, found industrial engineers well equipped to take an active role in quality improvement programs. The rising importance of working in multi- disciplinary teams, in both development and operation of systems, found the breadth of industrial engineers making them valuable team members and leaders. To those of us who were attracted to industrial engineering for its breadth of application and its grounding in fundamentals of science and engineering, these developments have added to the enjoyment in our work.

From: The Development of Modern Industrial Engineering, by D. L. Kimbler, Ph.D., P.E.,Department of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University [Printed in ENGINEERING HORIZONS, Spring 1995. A Peterson's/COG Publication. Posted electronically with permission.]



Career Perspectives

This breadth of application, with a sound basis in the physical, mathematical, and social sciences, leads to the single most difficult thing about industrial engineers: explaining exactly what we do and where we work. The difficulty comes from the fact that there is no short and easy answer. The breadth of our educations makes us productive in manufacturing, service, and government, and that is where we work. You will find IE's in production systems, quality programs, hospitals, banks, and government agencies. As to what we do, that varies as much as where we work. Some IE's remain very much human-centered, and work as quality improvement facilitators and team leaders, human resource specialists, and work-space designers. Some are more comfortable in the modeling, analysis, and improvement of flow systems, and work in manufacturing and production systems involved with the processes. The rapid response required to be competitive in marketing new products is a developing need for industrial engineers with both "people" and "systems" skills in research and development.

The immediate future looks very good. IE graduates are commanding starting salaries in the $32,000 - $34,000 range, and MS graduates start from the high $30's to the low $40's. The breadth of industrial engineering is a definite plus during economic cycles. While the number and location of job offers to new graduates might vary, it is rare to find a graduating industrial engineer who cannot find employment in the profession. One thing that has changed in recent years for all engineers, with IE's no exception, is stability of employment. While graduates once left school in the expectation that they would find a job for life, now it is just the opposite. Graduates should expect some variety in successive assignments, and probably variety in employer as well. There is no longer a stable and "safe" industry or employer. Stability comes from continuing employability, and this comes from developing a sound grasp of fundamentals, not just in industrial engineering but in the engineering and other sciences, that forms a basis for lifelong learning. Having formed the basis, new graduates need to quickly develop the habit of lifelong learning and take advantage of the opportunities there.

One opportunity is professional registration, which begins with the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination. This exam, built as it is from the basics of the baccalaureate education, is never easier than when taken in the senior year. Having taken it, becoming a registered professional engineer is a natural option; this option is not nearly as viable if the exam must be taken after graduation. Other options are certification programs in the area of technical practice, such as quality engineering or manufacturing engineering. These certifications can become guides to lifelong learning through re-certification, and are facilitated by the networking with people of similar interests that also needs to be part of your continuing development.


From: The Development of Modern Industrial Engineering,
by D. L. Kimbler, Ph.D., P.E.,Department of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University
[Printed in ENGINEERING HORIZONS, Spring 1995. A Peterson's/COG Publication.
Posted electronically with permission.]


Preparing for the Future

One of the key components of W. Edwards Deming's System of Profound Knowledge is appreciation and understanding of systems. Industrial engineers pride themselves on systems thinking and the systems point of view, so think of yourself in a system flowchart. You have inputs from your home, family, and education. You have outputs that might lead to employment, or further study. You have constraints in time and resources, and some free will in how you will react to systems forces. There are forces acting upon you that you cannot control, and there are other forces that you can affect. What should you do? In a way, the answer to this goes back to Frederick W. Taylor's quest for the "one correct way" to do a job. In retrospect, his belief that people should be matched to tools and jobs, and trained to repeat the most productive motions, was probably one of his most fallacious. It placed a premium on management and devalued labor, and we are only recently finding that the human resource in a system is one of the most valuable at our disposal.

There is not a "one correct way" to develop as a professional. You can, however, master the fundamentals, be prepared to encounter change, and be confident that you can adapt to your future as you continue to learn. The system approach applies to our daily lives as well as our professional work. Taylor thought he was right at the time, and only through ongoing use and study of scientific management were we able to refine it and develop other approaches that were more effective in our evolving systems. Just as Einstein built on Newton's work, Shewhart, Deming, and Gilbreth built took the study that Taylor began into new directions. An industrial engineering senior cannot possibly have all the knowledge that will be used in a later career. However, a solid grasp of the fundamentals and an approach of continuously improving ones self can make the unknown in the future something we can enjoy confronting.


From: The Development of Modern Industrial Engineering,
by D. L. Kimbler, Ph.D., P.E.,Department of Industrial Engineering, Clemson University
[Printed in ENGINEERING HORIZONS, Spring 1995. A Peterson's/COG Publication.
Posted electronically with permission.]


IE Resources

This page provides some interesting links related to the field of Industrial Engineering.

Note: All links open in a new window


Institute of Industrial Engineers - Primary IE professional Society

Industrial Engineering Virtual Library - All about IE on www

Computers and IE Journal Home Page - Search abstracts, view author guidelines


The Ergonomics Society - The forum for ergonomists and human factors specialists. Contains information on the latest issues in the field of ergonomics.

HFES - Human Factors and Ergonomics Society(HFES) , Helpful in locating human factors consultants, books related to human factors. Contains pointers to the upcoming conferences.

SIGCHI - Special Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction(SIGCHI), provides an international, interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of ideas about the field of human-computer interaction (HCI)

ErgoWeb - Contains pointers to several resources that offer professional Ergonomic Solutions.

Quality & Design

APQC - American Productivity and Quality Control Society(APQC), Provides information on methodologies that lead to individual and organizational improvement.

Operations Research

Eurosim - European Simulation Society, (EUROSIM) provide a European forum for regional and national simulation societies to promote the advancement of modeling and simulation in industry, research and development.

Optimization Technology Center - Devoted to research in numerical optimization, Internet and distributed computing, problem-solving environments, and to the study of optimization in a wide range of applications.

Michael Trick's OR Page - This is a page for pointers to all aspects of Operations Research(OR).



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