Monday, March 19, 2012

Focus of Industrial Engineering

औद्योगिक इंजीनियरिंग फोकस, Enfoque de Ingeniería Técnica Industrial, التركيز في الهندسة الصناعية


Yuèdú zhōng,   हिंदी में पढ़ें,    Leer en español,    قراءة في اللغة العربية


Focus of Industrial Engineering is Human Efficiency and System Efficiency in the design of integrated systems.

They are Efficiency Experts and They are not Functional Designers or Experts.
The Two Important areas of IE are Human Effort Engineering and Systems Efficiency Engineering. 



Institute of Industrial Engineers, the global professional body of industrial engineers provides the following definition for their discipline. Industrial engineering is concerned with the design, improvement, and installation of integrated systems of people, material, information, equipment, and energy. It draws upon specialized knowledge and skills in the mathematical, physical, and social sciences together with the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design to specify, predict, and evaluate the results to be obtained from such systems1.

The definition does not provide the focus of industrial engineers. The curriculums and text books of the discipline also do not provide its focus clearly. Due to this shortcoming, there is an identity crisis in the profession and may people with qualifications in industrial engineering join other departments where focus is more clear and shun industrial engineering as a career. Could industrial engineering discipline discover its focus?

For this endeavor one may start by examining the evolution of Industrial engineering.

Evolution of Industrial Engineering

The earliest reference to Industrial Engineering that we could trace was the address delivered by Henry R. Towne2 at the Purdue University on February 24th, 1905. According to him,” the Engineer is one who, in the world of physics and applied sciences, begets new things, or adapts old things to new and better uses; above all, one who, in that field, attains new results in the best way and at lowest cost.”

Towne explained that Industrial Engineering is the practice of one or more branches of engineering in connection with some organized establishment of a productive character, in which are conducted the operations required in the production of some article, or series of articles, of commerce or consumption.

He emphasized that an engineer who combines in one personality the two functions of technical knowledge and executive ability   has open to him unlimited opportunities in the field of industrial engineering. F.W.Taylor is hailed as the Father of Industrial engineering. He focused on improving the output from persons working in various trades. Time study was his main technique. Gilberth brought in the technique of motion study and developed the science and art of improving human efficiency at work. Harrington Emerson independently developed the ideas of efficiency of business organizations and published the book "The Twelve principles of Efficiency.3" He was one of the founding members or organizers of  "The Efficiency Society," which was started in 1912. Taylor Society and the Efficiency merged at a later point in time. Taylor's and Emerson's efforts in promoting human efficiency and system's efficiency form the back bone of the current profession of Industrial engineering. 

Lehrer's Definition

Robert N. Lehrer, Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Engineering, had proposed the following definition for industrial engineering in 1954. “Industrial engineering is the design of situations for the useful coordination of men, materials and machines in order to achieve desired results in an optimum manner. The unique characteristics of Industrial Engineering center about the consideration of the human factor as it is related to the technical aspects of a situation, and the integration of all factors that influence the overall situation.”4

The definition proposed by Lehrer brought out the importance of human factor specifically. But this definition was modified by AIIE  to broaden it to a large extent. But in that process the focus was lost. Narayana Rao examined this problem and proposed the following definition5.

Definition by Narayana Rao


“Industrial Engineering is Human Effort Engineering. It is an engineering discipline that deals with the design of human effort in all occupations: agricultural, manufacturing and service. The objectives of Industrial Engineering are optimization of productivity of work-systems and occupational comfort, health, safety and income of persons involved.”

The proposed definition basically extends Lehrer’s definition and captures the work done by Taylor and Gilbreth. Both of them studied human effort in detail and optimized the work system. Industrial engineers will bring to the design of large production system like a factory, their specialized knowledge of the human effort and human factors, methodology of studying work, and work measurement. Industrial engineers will also have adequate knowledge of technologies and equipment being used in the factory and the business principles and implications. While the knowledge of the human effort, human factors, methodology of studying work, and work measurement are the common knowledge areas of industrial engineers, the technology specific to the various industries will be different and thus specialist industrial engineers will emerge for different industries. It is also in line with the practice of admitting engineers of all disciplines in post graduate programs of industrial engineering.
In the case of engineering disciplines, industrial engineers are concerned with those situations in engineering practice where there is involvement of people in production, installation or maintenance and they will do an advanced study of features of equipment, with which people interact and operate the equipment. Already industrial engineers are working in various areas where traditional engineering disciplines have no role like banks and hospitals. Redefining Industrial Engineering as Human Effort Engineering, explains the role, industrial engineers are performing currently in a wide variety of organizations. Also, the word ‘industry’ has the meaning of effort or sustained effort in English language. Thus, we are making the definition of Industrial Engineering easy to be comprehended by even ordinary persons. 
The objectives of Industrial Engineering are mentioned as optimization of productivity of work-systems and occupational comfort, health, safety and income of persons involved. Taylor examined all the three simultaneously in his work design efforts. Taylor became the target of criticism because at that point of time, his conclusion was that workers were capable of more output but they were not producing to their full potential. But still the objective of Taylor was not to squeeze production from workers for the benefit of managements. Industrial Engineering should be so defined and practiced that industrial engineers are invited by employees themselves to examine their work and improve their productivity. The improvement in productivity should not lead to additional discomfort to the employee. Actually, the study by an industrial engineer should lead to more comfort for the employee. The increases in productivity should always lead to increase in income of the employees concerned or in other terms wages and salaries should reflect productivity differences among employees. Then employees themselves will invite industrial engineers to help them to improve their productivity as well as comfort. Even a self-employed person should invite industrial engineers to come and study his work and redesign it to optimize his comfort, productivity and income.
The objective of optimization of productivity of work-systems captures the direction and effort of Harrington Emerson. Industrial engineering has many efficiency improvement techniques.
Industrial engineers have to focus on human efficiency and system efficiency in the design of integrated systems and they can look for a leadership role in the systems design due to their broad learning curriculum.


2.. Towne, Henry R., “Industrial Engineering” An Address Delivered  At the Purdue University, Friday, February 24th, 1905, downloaded from
3. Emerson, H. (1912) The Twelve Principles of Efficiency, Engineering Magazine Company, New York, NY.
4. Lehrer, Robert N., “The Nature of Industrial Engineering,” The Journal of Industrial Engineering, vol.5, No.1, January 1954, Page 4
5. Narayana Rao, K.V.S.S., “Definition of Industrial Engineering: Suggested Modification,” Udyog Pragati, October-December, 2006

Efficiency improvement techniques of Industrial engineering - List

1. Method study
2. Motion study
3. Time study
4. Value engineering
5. Statistical quality control
6. Statistical inventory control
7. Six sigma
8. Operations research
9. Variety reduction
10. Standardization
11. Incentive schemes
12. Waste reduction or elimination
13. Activity based management
14. Business process improvement
15. Fatigue analysis and reduction
16. Engineering economy analysis
17. Learning effect capture and continuous improvement (Kaizen, Quality circles and suggestion schemes)
18. Standard costing

Some views and practices that support the view expressed in this article

Central to the discipline of industrial engineering are two themes: the interfaces among people and machines within systems, and the analysis of systems leading to improved performance. These issues motivated Taylor, and they motivate us today.

Human effort engineerng and System efficiency engineering can be identified in the above two themes.


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