An industrial engineer is an expert who tests the current production processes of a firm and then recommends improvisation and enhancement.
Their goal is to create industrial solutions that can boost production and lower the costs using the same amount of resources.
In other words, an industrial engineer helps firms achieve higher productivity per unit of resources. In essence, they are experts at producing “more with same.”
Historical outlook of industrial engineering
The concept of efficient productivity management evolved during and after the industrial revolution when outlooks began to migrate from sufficiency to efficiency. In those days, the discipline was known as “productivity management.”
Henry Ford was one of the early pioneers who successfully integrated productivity management with assembly lines. This success led to a more systematic and scientific evolution of the profession, and it morphed as the contemporary “industrial engineering.”
An industrial engineer’s role and responsibilities
To go deeper into this position’s duties, an industrial engineer is the node between managements and manpower. While discussing the strategic outlooks with management, they handle the tactical day-to-day affairs by remaining in active contact with the workers.
This can be a pain point at times. Workforce may perceive the industrial engineer as the ‘management’s man’ who clandestinely spies upon them and passes on details about the shop floor activities to them. This is an occupational hazard that industrial engineers have to overcome by tactfully taking the workforce in confidence.
Apart from setting and smoothly running the production processes, other responsibilities of this professional include industrial relations and human resource management from the productivity context.
The challenges of being an industrial engineer
This position is industry-centric. Around 70% of these professionals are employed in industries. Many of them would have established production processes which they would not like to disturb or disrupt easily.
For example, an entrepreneur-industrialist may not be willing to let go of a production process that provides employment to local communities. They may be resistant to the industrial engineer’s recommendations of automation and digital transformation of production facilities.
To make them see their point is the core challenge of an industrial engineer. Obviously, hours can be long at this job and challenges can be many. But passion for the job and a sense of purpose can be effective equalizers.
Due to multiple situations of conflicts of opinion that may manifest itself between the engineers and the management teams, industrial engineers should be team players, robust communicators, and be adept at soft management skills.
Future growth prospects for industrial engineers
Production and productivity are inherently pivoted on multiple factors such as demand, market dynamics, prices, competition, and changing international geo-political equations, among many other factors.
These are unpredictable parameters at best. Therefore, industrial engineering as a sustainable profession will undergo cyclical shifts aligned to market realities.
However, the fact remains that the present and the future industries will remain obsessed with productivity. This trend will only accelerate as new technologies and automation push for incremental productivity. Industrial engineers will continue to remain afloat during economic high tides as well as ebbs.