Spotlight on Industrial Engineering

ANDI CROWELL

Its name reflects its root: industry.  Though engineers cannot pinpoint the exact date industrial engineering began, most would concede that soon after its induction, industry on a large scale gave way to industrial engineering in fact if not in name.

UF’s College of Engineering defines Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) as a field dedicated to “increasing productivity through the management of people, methods of business organization, and technology.”  This “management” proved necessary as soon as industry and mass production became a reality a little over one hundred years ago.

“Up until then there wasn’t a singular kind of large-scale manufacturing enterprise.  So this large-scale production mode essentially created all sorts of issues for the management,” explains Dr. Alfredo Garcia, an ISE professor at UF.  “How are you going to make sure the people are in the right place at the right time?  How do you keep track of the workers doing what they are supposed to be doing?  The discipline, which essentially at the time was called scientific management, was born.”

Since then, the field has undergone many changes.  In particular, World War II presented a new series of demands for which industrial engineering could provide answers.

“The US had two arenas where the war was being conducted: the Pacific and Europe.  They had to move personnel, equipment, weapons all around the world to conduct these two fronts.  So you can imagine the logistics were massive,” explains Dr. Garcia.  “The military essentially consulted with a team of academics to try to solve these problems, and they formed a team of economists, mathematicians, and engineers to solve this massive logistics problem.”

After World War II, a new subfield of industrial engineering emerged as the applications of industrial engineering became evident for far more than just manufacturing.

“Whereas industrial engineering back then was mostly concern about manufacturing large scale, this opened up a whole new domain for industrial engineers, which was the management and optimization of large scale logistics,” says Dr. Garcia.

In the past twenty years, the rapid development of new technologies has also provided an opportunity for industrial engineers to apply and expand the principles they use.  Yet many of the qualities and interests of an industrial engineer remain the same.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that industrial engineers generally need creativity, critical-thinking skills, listening skills, math skills, problem-solving skills, speaking skills, and writing skills.

“I think it is very appealing for students who have, on one hand, a certain liking for math and on the other hand, a certain liking for business and economics,” says Dr. Garcia.  “And that combination is what I see attracts people who pursue industrial engineering.”

While at UF, students have the opportunity to hone in on their interest by participating in industrial engineering organizations, research, and internships.  Several of the organizations focus on helping students investigate and prepare for future jobs in the field.  For example, the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering (IISE, the new name of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) as of April 1, 2016), plays a significant role in helping students to connect not only with each other, but also to future employers.

“IISE is a great place to meet people,” says Sara Wortman, a third-year Industrial and Systems Engineering major.  “IISE breeds a sense of camaraderie.”

On one end of the spectrum, IISE coordinates the M&M (Mentor and Mentee) Program, which offers underclassmen the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of upperclass ISE majors.  Wortman, who coordinated the program last semester, noted that M&M can aid students in “classes, professional, and social” fields.  Yet IISE also facilitates connections outside the university through events including IISE’s Southeast Regional Conference.

“[It offers] workshops and networking [and allows you to] meet IISE chapters from other schools and learn from other chapters,” says Wortman.

Interestingly, some of the required courses for ISE majors also allow students to interact with groups outside of the university itself.  In one of her courses, Wortman and her peers worked with Optym, located northwest of campus.

“[We] analyzed [the] communication system, surveyed employees, [and] used charts and diagrams to see the flow of communication,” Wortman recalls.  Based on the information they collected, the team “made suggestions” to “make the physical facility more efficient.”

Students pursuing a degree in industrial engineering have several options open to them after college.  Some choose to work as industrial engineers.  Of those, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many work in computer and electronic product manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing.  Others, however, choose to move on to work in positions that use the skill set they acquired, but that are not directly related to industrial engineering.

“It is such a general background.  They may end up doing other stuff,” Dr. Garcia explains.  “I think alums here may have studied working as engineers, and they ended up becoming CEOs or leaders in certain organizations because they had the skills in both technique and in managerial to do that.  We have a combination: some are going to end up doing engineering, some may end up doing business.”

Wortman is pursuing a minor in sustainability studies and hopes to merge her interests in industrial engineering and sustainability.  She suggests a background in both would allow her to “promote biodiversity and protect different species in ecosystems.”

“There are so many different paths to take,” she adds. “[The] skills are super transferrable.  You could pretty much work in any company anywhere.”

Obviously, the field of industrial engineering has expanded far beyond its original roots.  Its applicability now extends to a wide variety of industries and services – and that is part of what makes it the major many students find so valuable.

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