Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient ways to use workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.
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Industrial engineers usually do the following
In all these different projects, industrial engineers focus on how to get the work done most efficiently, balancing many factors such as time, number of workers needed, actions workers need to take, achieving the end with no errors, technology that is available, workers' safety, environmental concerns, and cost.
To find ways to reduce waste and improve performance, they first study product requirements carefully. Then they use mathematical methods and models to design manufacturing and information systems to meet those requirements most efficiently.
Entry-level industrial engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Employers also value experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are also valuable. Students interested in studying industrial engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; computer science; and sciences such as chemistry and physics.
Bachelor’s degree programs typically are four-year programs and include lectures in classrooms and practice in laboratories. Courses include statistics, production systems planning, and manufacturing systems design, among others. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education. Some colleges and universities offer five-year degree programs that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion. A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as a professor at a university or to engage in research and development. Some five-year or even six-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with practical work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.
Programs in industrial engineering are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Beginning industrial engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classes or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.
Eventually, industrial engineers may advance to become technical specialists, such as quality engineers or facility planners. In that role, they supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Many move into management positions because the work they do is closely related to the work of manager.
Depending on their tasks, industrial engineers work both in offices and in the settings they are trying to improve. For example, when observing problems, they may watch workers on a factory floor or staff in a hospital. When solving problems, they may be in an office at a computer looking at data that they or others have collected.
Industrial engineers often work on teams with other professionals and production staff. They may need to travel to observe processes and make assessments in various work settings. Most work full time.
The median annual wage of industrial engineers was $76,100 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $49,700, and the top 10% earned more than $112,830.