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 typically do the following:
- Review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand methods and activities in manufacturing and services
- 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
- paying workers
Industrial engineers focus on how to get the work done most efficiently, balancing many factors—such as time, number of workers needed, available technology, actions workers need to take, achieving the end product with no errors, workers' safety, environmental concerns, and cost.
To find ways to reduce waste and improve performance, industrial engineers first study product requirements carefully. Then they use mathematical methods and models to design manufacturing and information systems to meet those requirements most efficiently.
Their versatility allows industrial engineers to engage in activities that are useful to a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofits. For example, industrial engineers engage in supply chain management to help businesses minimize inventory costs, conduct quality assurance activities to help businesses keep their customer bases satisfied, and work in the growing field of project management as industries across the economy seek to control costs and maximize efficiencies.
Industrial engineers held about 223,300 jobs in 2012. 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 assembling parts in a factory or staff carrying out their tasks in a hospital. When solving problems, industrial engineers may be in an office at a computer looking at data that they or others have collected.
Industrial engineers may need to travel to observe processes and make assessments in various work settings.
The industries that employed the most industrial engineers in 2012 were as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||8%|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||6|
|Motor vehicle parts manufacturing||6|
|Management of companies and enterprises||6|
Industrial engineers must be able to work with other professionals to serve as a bridge between the technical and business sides of an organization. This requires being able to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Most industrial engineers work full time. Hours may vary, however, depending upon the projects in which these engineers are engaged, and upon the industries in which the projects are taking place.
Industrial engineers must have a bachelor’s degree. Employers also value experience, so cooperative education engineering programs at universities are also valuable.
Industrial engineers need a bachelor's degree, typically in industrial engineering. However, many industrial engineers have degrees in mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, industrial engineering technology, or general engineering. 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 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.
A few colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs in industrial engineering that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion, and several more offer similar programs in mechanical engineering. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as a professor at a college or university or to engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-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.
Creativity. Industrial engineers use creativity and ingenuity to design new production processes in many kinds of settings to reduce use of material resources, time, or labor while accomplishing the same goal.
Critical-thinking skills. Industrial engineers create new systems to solve problems related to waste and inefficiency. Solving these problems requires logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to the problems.
Listening skills. These engineers often operate in teams, but they must also solicit feedback from customers, vendors, and production staff. They must listen to customers and clients to fully grasp ideas and problems the first time.
Math skills. Industrial engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.
Problem-solving skills. In designing facilities for manufacturing and processes for providing services, these engineers deal with several issues at once, from workers’ safety to quality assurance.
Speaking skills. Industrial engineers sometimes have to explain their instructions to production staff or technicians before they can make written instructions available. Being able to explain concepts clearly and quickly is crucial to preventing costly mistakes and loss of time.
Writing skills. Industrial engineers must create documentation for other professionals or for future reference. The documentation must be coherent and explain their thinking clearly so that others can understand the information.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Licensure for industrial engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, but it is encouraged for those working in companies that have government contracts. Industrial engineers who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineer (PE). Licensure generally requires the following:
- A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
- A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Relevant work experience
- A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
The initial FE exam can be taken right after graduating. Engineers who pass this exam commonly are called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After getting suitable work experience, EITs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.
Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licenses from other states, as long as the other state’s licensing requirements meet or exceed their own licensing requirements.
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 industrial engineers move into management positions because the work they do is closely related to the work of managers. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.
The median annual wage for industrial engineers was $78,860 in May 2012. 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 percent earned less than $51,180, and the top 10 percent earned more than $118,300.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for industrial engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||$84,600|
|Management of companies and enterprises||82,290|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||81,240|
|Motor vehicle parts manufacturing||71,580|
Most industrial engineers work full time. Hours may vary, however, depending upon the projects on which these engineers are engaged, and upon the industries in which the projects are taking place.
Employment of industrial engineers is projected to grow 5 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. This occupation is versatile both in the nature of the work it does and in the industries in which its expertise can be put to use. In addition, because industrial engineers’ work can help with cost control by increasing efficiency, these engineers are attractive to employers in most industries, including nonprofits.
Because they are not as specialized as other engineers, industrial engineers are employed in a wide range of industries, including major manufacturing industries, hospitals, consulting and engineering services, and research and development firms. This versatility arises from the fact that these engineers’ expertise focuses on reducing internal costs, making their work valuable for many industries. For example, their work is important for manufacturing industries considering relocation to domestic sites. In addition, growth in healthcare and changes in how care is delivered will create demand for industrial engineers. Firms in a variety of industries are seeking new ways to contain costs and improve efficiency, leading to more demand for these workers.
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