Posted By: Brightwood Engineering Education
Updated: August 18, 2017
Industrial engineers aim to reduce the waste of time, money, materials, man-hours, machine time, energy, and other resources that do not generate value.
Henry Ford (1863-1947), founder of the automotive company bearing his name, is possibly the most famous industrial engineer of all time. Ford exemplifies the definition of an industrial engineer. He is best known perhaps as the entrepreneur who installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. His innovation cut the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes. But there are other industrial engineers who have made their marks as well.
Before Ford, there was Eli Whitney (1765-1825). Whitney invented the cotton gin, considered one of the most important contributions to the Industrial Revolution. In addition, the engineer was a proponent of interchangeable parts for machinery. Both solutions helped increase efficiency for their respective industries. The cotton gin revolutionized the way cotton was harvested in the US southern states and strengthened the economic argument for slavery. However, in the North, the growing popularity of using interchangeable parts gave the manufacturing industry new life and was a contributing factor to the North winning the Civil War.
Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) is considered the "mother of modern management." She pioneered industrial management techniques still used today. Working with her husband, Frank, who focused on the technical aspects of worker efficiency, Lillian aimed to discern the human aspects of time management. As a result of the couple's work, job standardization, incentive wage plans, and job simplification became familiar within the workplace. In addition, she was among the first to identify how fatigue and stress negatively impacted time management. Later, she became a consultant to many industrial firms, including General Electric, where her work improved the design of kitchens and household appliances. Some of her innovative techniques were designed to specifically help disabled women complete common household tasks.
Alphonse Chapanis (1917-2002) was a pioneer in the field of ergonomics. He authored the first ergonomics textbook, Applied Experimental Psychology: Human Factors in Engineering Design. In addition, he created and implemented safety improvements in aircraft cockpits, which are still used today. His research also contributed to the design of the standard telephone touchtone keypad.
In modern times, Tim Cook is the definition of the successful industrial engineer—one who optimizes complex systems and eliminates waste from those systems. A career at IBM and Compaq allowed him to develop an expertise in handling supply lines. Cook then moved to Apple, where he reduced the number of the OEM's key suppliers from 100 to 24. He negotiated better deals with partners and convinced many to locate next to Apple's plants. Further, Cook closed 10 of 19 Apple warehouses, cut inventory from one month to six days, and eventually brought that number down to two days’ worth of inventory. As a result, the time it took to build an Apple computer was eventually cut from four months to just two months.
Industrial engineers can generate substantial value for their companies by streamlining the use of time, materials, machinery, and employees. In addition, some industrial engineers make such valuable improvements that their solutions forge innovative pathways for other companies and even industries to follow. They have made a name for themselves by simply "doing their jobs."
Now that you have a better idea of what industrial engineers have done throughout history, learn more about what industrial engineers do today.
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