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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.
Industrial engineers usually do the following:
Review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand manufacturing and service methods and activities
Figure out how to manufacture parts or products or deliver services with maximum efficiency
Develop management control systems to make financial planning and cost analysis more efficient
Enact quality control procedures to resolve production problems or minimize costs
Work with customers and management to develop standards for design and production
Design control systems to coordinate activities and production planning to ensure that products meet quality standards
Confer with clients about product specifications, vendors about purchases, management personnel about manufacturing capabilities, and staff about the status of projects
Industrial engineers apply their skills to many different situations - from manufacturing to business administration. For example, they design systems for:
Moving heavy parts within manufacturing plants
Getting goods from a company to customers, including finding the most profitable places to locate manufacturing or processing plants
Evaluating how well people do their jobs
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.
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.
Students interested in studying industrial engineering should take high school courses in mathematics (algebra, trigonometry, calculus), computer science, chemistry, and physics. Entry-level industrial engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Employers also value experience, so cooperative-education engineering programs at universities are also valuable.
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 a manager.