Industry Market Trends
Industrial Engineering Capabilities Crucial to a U.S. Manufacturing Resurgence
October 8, 2013
The expected manufacturing resurgence in the U.S. stands to benefit from the specialized skills of industrial engineers (IEs). As new shop floors open up, manufacturers need the expertise of professionals trained to design manufacturing systems and processes. Manufacturing is changing through increased automation and use of robotics, even in smaller and mid-sized firms. The smaller firms might have the most to gain in a resurgent manufacturing sector, but they face special industrial-engineering challenges, as many of them are contract-job shops that are in the business of small runs and have to be ready to adjust the shop floor quickly to gear up for a new job. At the recent Wal-Mart U.S. Manufacturing Summit, Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., pointed to a potential talent gap in the industrial engineering discipline, commenting that U.S. manufacturing needs "those that can design the factories, design the processes, the technology. So as a country, not just Walmart -- we have a shortage in that area, too. We need more science and more engineers to help us ... build the foundation" for a manufacturing resurgence. At a high level, industrial engineering (IE) is a discipline focused on the design and optimization of complex systems. The job of an industrial engineer is to "figure out ways to do things better," to develop "processes and systems that improve quality and productivity," that save money and eliminate waste, according to the University of Illinois. IE is most often associated with manufacturing, but the university makes the point that industrial engineers are increasingly finding jobs in other workplaces, such as financial services, government, service companies, and healthcare institutions. The school believes that "the need for industrial engineers is growing," as companies "adopt management philosophies of continuous productivity and quality improvement to survive in the increasingly competitive world market." The Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) stresses the importance of STEM education in preparing new IEs for the workplace. Math and science, the organization says, helps practitioners to "draw conclusions based on systematically gathered facts," to "think logically and recognize conclusions" and to "develop explanations based on observations." IIE says industrial engineers typically focus on such areas as project management, production, distribution, supply chain, productivity, process engineering, quality, ergonomics, and human factors, technology development and transfer, strategic planning, change management and financial engineering. In manufacturing, says IIE, the work of industrial engineers more specifically includes:
- Participating in design reviews "to ensure manufacturability of the product"
- Determining "methods and procedures for production and distribution activity"
- Creating documentation and work instructions
- Managing resources and schedules for production and distribution
- Using simulation tools for process optimization
- Facilitating and leading process improvement teams