I completed Industrial Engineering for my bachelor’s degree. When asked a few times with what is it all about, I struggled to give an answer. It is a five-year course (strictly, it’s three years as the first two are for general education subjects) so one would think that providing a succinct response would just come easily. In my case, it did not.
One of the reasons I can think of is that while in the thick of it (i.e. being a student), it’s just hard to see the forest for the trees. I don’t think I had a moment in which I took a step back and paused to see how each of the courses are connected. (Or was I just lazy to do that? 😁)
There is of course a formal definition to it (see https://www.iise.org/details.aspx?id) which at one point I had to memorize as it might come up in a quiz. Did that make things any clearer? I bet no. So this is an attempt to make sense of it by trying to remember the subjects I took and explain their main point(s). I could be wrong with my statements but I’ll try my best.
In Design of Experiments, we are taught to determine which of the independent variables have the most significant or at least an effect to a response variable. I do remember our project to be an investigation whether the presence or absence of an msg to a dish impacts its perceived palatability. I know that it is not exactly an engineering problem that is being solved; the point however is that this equips us to conduct an experiment to make an assertion about a better option to take among alternatives.
Operations Research should be an interesting subject. The essence of which is to determine the best combination of resources to get the most profit/least cost by constructing some model. I cannot recall what my project was for this course, which speaks volumes to how much fun I got out of it.
For whatever reason, my favorite subject was Engineering Economy. It deals with making sense of the time value of money — money now has a higher value than holding the same amount at a future time because of its earning potential. What is it used for? When making a decision about implementing a project, do we do it now or some other time in the future? The projected financial benefits of the alternatives will be discounted to the present to see which has a higher present value.
Ergonomics is taking into consideration the limits of human capability (physical or cognition-wise) in the design of systems. For instance, there is a suggested angle of a worker’s line of sight with a monitor that reduces eye fatigue. Ultimately, a higher productivity is what is being achieved.
Systems simulation is another interesting subject. When a process is already too complicated that building a mathematical model can be hard to come by, a computer model can be used in its place. What-if analysis is also easier to carry out. Again, this is about comparing alternatives to see which one is better against some criteria.
Okay, that’s about it. There are others still but this post is all getting lengthy. So going back, what is IE then? It is easier to see the common theme now. It is about efficiency — getting the most output from a set of inputs. It is about productivity. It is about how to best manage the resources available to achieve the best outcome.
That is IE. 👌