Industrial engineering is a branch of engineering dealing with the optimization of complex processes or systems. It is concerned with the development, improvement, implementation and evaluation of integrated systems of people, money, knowledge, information, equipment, energy, materials, analysis and synthesis, as well as the mathematical, physical and social sciences together with the principles and methods of engineering design to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems or processes. Its underlying concepts overlap considerably with certain business-oriented disciplines such as Operations Management, but the engineering side tends to emphasize extensive mathematicalproficiency and usage of quantitative methods.
Depending on the sub-speciality involved, industrial engineering may also be known as operations management, management science, operations research, systems engineering, or manufacturing engineering, usually depending on the viewpoint or motives of the user. Recruiters or educational establishments use the names to differentiate themselves from others. In health care, industrial engineers are more commonly known as health management engineers or health systems engineers.
Industrial engineers determine the most effective ways to use the basic factors of production, people, machines, materials, information, and energy, to make a product. They are primarily concerned with increasing productivity through the management of people, methods of business organization, and technology. To solve organizational, production, and related problems efficiently, industrial engineers carefully study the product requirements, use mathematical methods to meet those requirements, and design manufacturing and information systems. They develop management control systems to aid in financial planning and cost analysis, and design production planning and control systems to coordinate activities and ensure product quality. They also design or improve systems for the physical distribution of goods and services, as well as determining the most efficient plant locations. Industrial engineers develop wage and salary administration systems and job evaluation programs. Many industrial engineers move into management positions because the work is closely related to the work of managers.
Industrial engineers must be good at solving problems. They must combine their technical knowledge with a sense of human capabilities and limitations. They should be able to organize many details into a broad view of the total operations and organization of a company. Although much of their work is done independently, industrial engineers must also be able to cooperate with other engineers, technicians, and managers. They must be able to talk with production workers and be willing to understand their concerns. Since they may present their plans in the form of written reports or oral presentations, industrial engineers must have good communication skills.
A bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering is required for almost all entry-level industrial engineering jobs. College graduates with degrees in a physical science or mathematics may occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties in high demand.
Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and science. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, often accompanied by a computer or laboratory class, is part of the curriculum of most programs.
Industrial engineers spend part of their time in factories, observing operations and trying to spot problems. At times, they must travel to construction sites, laboratories, industrial plants, transportation facilities, warehouses, and other places that are part of their company’s total operations. Most of their time is spent in offices, where they monitor or direct operations, identifying and solving problems and working to improve efficiency. Many engineers work a standard forty-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring longer hours.
Advancement usually depends on education and experience. Industrial engineers are often promoted to jobs as managers and executives. Others advance by improving their skills and becoming experts in one industry or in one phase of industrial engineering. Some start their own engineering consulting firms or manufacturing companies.
The field of industrial engineering is expected to grow about as fast as the national average for all occupations through 2014. The job outlook is good. As firms seek to reduce costs and increase productivity, they are anticipated to turn increasingly to industrial engineers to develop more efficient processes to reduce costs, delays, and waste. Because their work is similar to that done in management occupations, many industrial engineers leave the occupation to become managers. Many job openings are expected to be created by the need to replace the industrial engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Currently, the estimation of the average yearly earnings of mechanical engineers is around $78,000.