Because an Industrial Engineer works on a number of different type of projects: plant layouts, CAD, work measurement, and the like, people will ask me what is my favorite type of project and which one do I like the least. That is a difficult question to answer. While it is true that some projects are more interesting than others, I find that the challenge involved in any particular project is the part to be savored and enjoyed. The old stand-bye’s like work measurement are challenging enough in and of itself. Plant layouts and anything that uses CAD are challenging because of the thought that goes into the layout and translating that thought into CAD. The most challenging, however, is anything new. Social Media management can be the most challenging, right now, because of the unknown paths that I can follow. Every turn can be something new by itself. That leads to great fun!
Some of the new techniques that I learned because “I Just Can’t Say No” are:
Data base programming. I’ve written some applications for clients to help them in their day-to-day operations. Some keep track of their sales force and the commissions earned, scheduled machines, and absences. I even programmed some spreadsheets.
Social Media Management. Everyone uses Facebook and Twitter, but there are some techniques to using them effectively. Also there are other places on the internet to get one noticed.
CAD. While I have been using CAD to create plant layouts and piece part drawings, I had to learn some 3D techniques.
Different techniques. There is always something new to learn to keep the old ways fresh. While some things will always stay the same, there will always be new and better ways to achieve them
Whatever the client needs to get their job done. New and improved ways of doing the old techniques are always coming along. If I don’t learn or do them, someone else will. Once learned, I have used these techniques for different clients.
As a consultant, I am continually asked to do projects that require me to learn something new. Consequently, if I want the business I have to say yes to almost any project that comes my way. Therefore, I have said yes to some projects that I don’t know how to do at that time. After I leave the client, I have to figure out how to do what it is that they want me to do. Through the years I have learned how to do multiple new things. I have learned how to write data base programs, I have learned how to use spreadsheets to better advantage and some CAD drawings that I wouldn’t have otherwise known how to do. When it comes time to billing the customer, however, I will not bill them for the time that it took to learn the new project. However I will have gained the knowledge how to do it for another time and it has come in handy for some later projects. Have you found this to be true for anything that you’ve done?
When I first started out as a young Industrial Engineer, there were really only two ways of measuring work content. There was pre-determined time systems (Work Factor and MTM) and the stopwatch. I had to learn Work Factor and use a stopwatch. Work Factor became ingrained in my head. I haven’t used it in 30 years but I think I could use it today as I still have my original “chart.” The timing device became the measuring tool of choice. The original stopwatch hands flew around the dial at breakneck speed, but I had to note the location of the hand on the dial and record the element. Talk about inaccuracies! After a while, a new device entered the market, a digital stopwatch. Wow! What an improvement. That remained the device of choice for a long time. Now comes the PDA. This represents a dramatic improvement in accuracy. Not only is it accurate in and of itself, there are apps that are written specifically for work measurement. This is a long way from the analog stopwatch. What will be next?
One of the building blocks for Industrial Engineering is the time study. Almost everything in manufacturing is derived from this humble beginning. So the question is how do you do a time study? What is the best method to use, both in choice of timing device to use and in work place arrangement.
The first timing device was the somewhat reliable stop watch. One had to look at the watch while one of the hands was flying across the face of the watch and try to read the time and then turn their attention to the paper on which the times were recorded. A lot of missed motions, but the best that was available at the time. One could also use a predetermined time system. Every motion was recorded in sequence and a specific time value for each little finger squiggle was applied. Tedious, but effective. Fast forward now to the 21st century. The stop watch has been replaced by the PDA. That means that with the press of the “enter” button the time value for a sequential element can be automatically entered and the total time can be calculated with more accuracy than the original stop watch. Much easier to use, I might add.
Recently I posted a question on LinkedIn about the REAL cost to produce offshore. The responses were very interesting and telling. There were the usual responses about the labor rates being lower than in the U.S. I can understand how that would be important in a labor intensive environment such as a call center, but I question the value in a capital intensive environment. The responses ranged from broken products to mis-marked products to long delays to safety stock inventories at home. All of these add costs but add no value. There hasn’t been a single response as to tax benefits. How is this cycle of offshore production overturned and production brought back to the U.S.?
While Industrial Engineers may not invent a particular process, we have been at the forefront of any new technology that emerges and finding useful ways of utilizing them. I don’t know who invented bar coding but I have used it to great advantage in some of my projects as I am sure most other IE’s have. RFID technology is another innovation that has been put to good use by IE’s. The implementation of ERP software has created new opportunities for IE’s. A staple of IE’s everywhere is the use of new and better CAD systems. The creation of specialized tools/machines for specific applications has greatly enhanced productivity. These and many other technological advances are tools that we all have used to implement cost improvement and better product flow. Some of the lower tech companies with which I consulted have benefitted from the introduction of a PC. That was certainly innovative for them.
So, have IE’s been innovative? I think the way that we use the new tools that are now available is our innovation.