What is an Industrial Engineer?

Industrial engineering is actually a far-ranging profession that focuses on optimizing complex processes or systems by reducing wastefulness in production. It focuses on systems of people, money, knowledge, information, equipment, energy, and materials and may address mathematical, physical, and social science concerns. It brings to bear the principles and techniques of engineering design on many facets of life and seeks to specify, predict, and evaluate the results derived from these systems or processes.

Industrial engineering is one of the oldest branches of engineering taught in engineering schools and generally requires that practitioners hold a professional engineering license in order to practice. If you want to learn more about this field, and how to pursue a career in this direction, contact the schools in our directory to receive detailed information you can use to make a decision.

The entry-level qualification needed to work as an industrial engineer is typically a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. It is not uncommon, however, for practicing industrial engineers to have degrees in related fields such as mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering, industrial engineering technology, or general engineering. Many universities that offer degrees in the field offer advanced degrees: master’s and doctoral level programs, as well. US News and World Report ranks industrial engineering programs in the United States. In 2012, the top-ranked US program was at the Georgia Institute of Technology. As of 2012, it had held this ranking for twenty-two consecutive years. The program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of California, Berkeley, have been ranked second and third in the United States for many years.

Industrial Engineering Courses and Curriculum

The typical undergraduate degree needed to become an Industrial Engineer is a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Science and Engineering (BSE) in Industrial Engineering (IE). Some Industrial Engineers hold degrees in Industrial & Operations Engineering (IOE), or Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE).

Similarly to other undergraduate engineering programs, the typical curriculum is built on a foundation of broad math and science courses. Examples include courses in chemistry, physics, mechanics, materials science, computer science, electronics/circuits, and engineering design. In addition, several engineering mathematics courses, such as calculus, differential equations, and statistics, are required. These courses are required by virtually all accredited undergraduate engineering programs and prepare students for most engineering licensure exams.

Following the foundational courses, students take courses specific to IE. These specialized courses are in areas such as systems theory, design or analysis, ergonomics/safety, stochastics, optimization, advanced mathematics, computation or modeling, and/or engineering economics. Other subjects typically studied by IE students include management, finance, strategy, and other business-oriented course, and social science courses such as psychology or public policy. Some business schools offer programs that overlap with IE, but the engineering programs tend to be more quantitative as well as more rigorous in the basic sciences and mathematics. Bachelor’s degree programs typically include both classroom and laboratory experiences.

At the postgraduate level, the most commonly-earned degree is the Master of Science (MS) or Master of Science and Engineering (MSE) in IE. Typical coursework at this level tends to be focused on operations research and optimization techniques, engineering economics, supply chain management and logistics, facilities and work-space design, quality engineering, reliability engineering, human factors engineering and ergonomics, robotics, productivity improvement, operations management, time and motion studies, computer-aided manufacturing, and others.

A few colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs in IE that lead to both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at graduation. The advantage of obtaining a graduate degree is that it opens up the possibility of working as a professor at a college or university or working in research and development. There are also some 5-year or 6-year cooperative education programs that combine classroom study with practice in the work world. These programs enable students to gain real-world experience and finance part of their education Programs in IE are accredited by ABET.

A Career After Earning Your Industrial Engineering Degree

It is expected that the employment of industrial engineers may grow by 5 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is actually a lower expected growth rate than in many other careers, even in other branches of engineering. Industrial engineers are employed in a broad array of settings, and the type of work they do is very varied. Most industrial engineers work in manufacturing as well as in professional, technical, and scientific services. Median wages for industrial engineers in the United States as a whole were $80,300 in 2013, according to ONet. In New York State, the median wage for industrial engineers was $79,800, whereas in Texas the median wage is $91,800. In Florida, the median wage was $68,500. Clearly, different areas of the country pay industrial engineers very differently.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the range between the lowest and highest paid percentages of industrial engineers was $52,000 yearly, or $24.98 hourly, versus $119,500 yearly, or $57.43 hourly as of 2013. Within the profession, the specific industry an individual works in, as well as the tasks they perform and how experienced they are is responsible for these differences.

Working Life of an Industrial Engineer

Depending upon the specific tasks they are performing, industrial engineers work both in offices and in the settings they are working to improve. If they are observing problems, for instance, they may watch workers assemble parts in a factory, or staff performing their functions in hospitals. When solving problems, industrial engineers may work in an office at a computer, where they examine data that they themselves, or others, have gathered. Industrial engineers may need to travel for work in order to observe processes and make assessments in various work settings. In 2012, the industries that employed the greatest number of industrial engineers were: aerospace product and parts manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, architectural, engineering, and related services, motor vehicle parts manufacturing, and management of companies and enterprises. Industrial engineers need good interpersonal skills to be able to work alongside other professionals and serve as a bridge between the technical and business sides of an organization.

Recently, the University of Chicago conducted a study to obtain information about job satisfaction in the United States. Although job and career are not the only determinants of overall happiness and life satisfaction, they do contribute substantially to an individual’s sense of well-being. According to the study, the occupation “industrial engineer” was among the top ten careers associated with general happiness. In fact, it ranked ninth. When compensation for these top-ten careers was examined, “industrial engineers” ranked third.
When looking at the reported reasons for happiness, i.e. creativity, use of expertise, helping others, it is easy to understand why industrial engineers ranked in the top ten careers for happiness. IEs are trained to use quantitative and non-quantitative expertise in creative was to improve processes and products while making jobs easier and more efficient.

If you are ready to learn even more about pursuing a career in the field of industrial engineering, please contact the schools in your area to receive more information. We recommend comparing multiple programs to be sure you choose the best one for you.

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