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What Is Industrial Engineering?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 18 July 2014
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Industrial engineering is the analysis of complex systems to improve efficiency and functionality. A number of sub specialties within this discipline cover topics ranging from management to health care systems. Industrial engineers can act as consultants during planning phases of projects and may also be involved in critical analysis to determine how a business can improve. Colleges and universities with degree programs in this subject often provide education in a number of disciplines, and may have a focus on particular topics of interest. It is important to review the offerings at an industrial engineering program to determine if it will meet a student’s individual needs.

The use of the word “industrial” implies that industrial engineering takes place in settings like factories, but in fact the field is much more broad. Some industrial engineers do work on tasks like designing production lines, improving quality control, and helping factories get more efficient. Others may work in management, not just in manufacturing but in other areas of business. Financial institutions, for example, may use an industrial engineer to improve their products and services.

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Supply chains, from source to customer, fall under industrial engineering. This can include manufactured products, but it may also involve services. In health care settings, for example, smooth delivery of services and adequate maintenance of records are both important. Industrial engineers can design medical records systems for hospitals and clinics to allow them to store and process information efficiently. At every step of a complex process, an industrial engineer may be able to make recommendations for improvement.

Members of this field may also consider topics like resource allocation. In addition to physical resources like equipment, this can include human resources, capital, and so forth. Experts in industrial engineering typically pick a particular area of practice to focus on; someone might, for example, be especially knowledgeable about the needs of chemical plants, including sourcing, production, quality control, and delivery. Retaining an industrial engineer can help a plant with a brand new design from the ground up, or improvements to an existing facility.

Work in the field of industrial engineering can require an advanced degree, depending on the nature of an engineer’s area of specialty. Management specialists, for example, may need master’s degrees to act as consultants. Technicians who assist with processes may be able to work with a bachelor’s degrees. Many industrial engineers also belong to trade organizations. This allows them to exchange information and ideas, attend conferences, and engage in other activities for professional development.

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