Improve company processes as an industrial engineer

Industrial Engineers save their companies money

Industrial Engineers work within a company to improve the production processes and systems of distribution. The main goal of their job is to identify waste — whether it's wasted time in production, resources that cost the company, or packaging that slows shipment — and create solutions to make the company more efficient. This requires a deep knowledge of the machines, production process, and people behind the business operations. Something that seems insignificant, like tweaking the production process, can actually save companies millions over a few years. As a result, it's the role of the industrial engineer to constantly identify weakness and opportunities for improvement within the business.

But what does an industrial engineer do?

Responsibilities

The industrial engineer job description varies by company and even department. Some industrial engineers might focus entirely on the shipment process, while others will work to make changes in all aspects of the company. These employees work closely with the operations department and normally report to the head of logistics or the COO. Here are a few tasks that industrial engineers might have on their daily schedules.

  • Reviewing production schedules, tools, and processes
  • Researching engineering specifications and requirements for safety compliance
  • Performing cost and benefit analyses for changes and process improvements
  • Creating systems and infrastructure that had not previously existed
  • Meeting with employees to explain system changes and improvements
  • Visiting vendors with better machinery and tools for improving production
  • Implementing quality control processes to reduce customer complaints and lost revenue
  • Analyzing patterns in production for problems and weaknesses
  • Presenting opportunities and project benefits to upper management
  • Evaluating changes after the launch to make sure the changes were beneficial

Work Environment

While most industrial engineers spend their time in an office setting, they may need to travel away from their desks to visit production facilities to better understand how a business works. Depending on the company, they may need to walk through factories and distribution centers and may have to travel across different states and countries to meet with various vendors. If they're considering hiring a new vendor or using a different process, they will travel to meet with them and see the benefits from the improved materials. Because industrial engineers work with production employees and upper management, they need to have strong communication skills to bridge the gap between what is actually happening on the floor and what management wants to produce.

Most industrial engineers will be given a computer with a couple monitors and potentially a drawing desk to map out ideas. If the job requires a lot of movement, the candidate will receive a laptop or tablet to carry around with him to facilitate note-taking and remote work. While industrial engineering is a job that tends to require movement and even travel, there are limited work from home options. Some companies might allow candidates to work from home, but they will need to report to the office regularly for meetings and production reviews.

Schedule

Most industrial engineers work Monday through Friday and arrive early in the morning (around nine) and then leave in the evening. Because this tends to be a salaried position, employees may be required to work late until a proposal or implementation plan is completed. Candidates may find themselves traveling over weekends if they're visiting different facilities and might not be given the following weekdays off to make up for the extended travel.

Industrial engineers might be hired on a contractual basis to provide consulting services and improvement propositions from a third-party perspective. If they're not hired full-time, they may be able to choose their hours, as long as they work with the company that takes them on as a contractor. Some industrial engineers have multiple clients that they meet within their own office instead of traveling to their employer. However, this depends on the contract and type of job.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be an Industrial Engineer?

Education

The majority of industrial engineer job descriptions require a bachelor's degree, but some require a Master's degree. If a degree is the only barrier to receiving a promotion, then some companies may offer scholarships for the candidate to pursue their career while they work in a lower-level position. In rare cases, a company may overlook a lack of a higher-level degree if the candidate has significant experience to make up for it. Below are a few majors that employers look for when filling an industrial engineering position.

When candidates are hired as industrial engineers, they may spend the first six months learning about the company and the technology used by that particular firm. Industrial engineers should expect significant on-the-job training when they start, which is why companies try to retain them for several years.

Experience

The average industrial engineer, 60 percent of the industrial engineering workforce, has only one to four years of experience. About 21 percent of industrial engineers have five to nine years of experience, and only 8 percent of engineers have more than 20 years of experience in the field. Industrial engineering is a great way to get your foot in the door, but many candidates advance in the industry a few years into their careers.

After spending the first two to five years in industrial engineering, many candidates become operations managers or production managers within the company. Their in-depth knowledge of the business makes them particularly qualified to run the operations of the company and continue to make improvements.

Skills

When asked "what is an industrial engineer," most candidates tell you it comes down to the skills. Employers are looking for a specific mindset when they consider hiring industrial engineers. They need employees who are never satisfied with the status quo and constantly question and look for new ideas for improvement. They also need candidates with strong problem-solving capabilities to execute their ideas. Below are a few skills that can set industrial engineering candidates apart from the competition.

  • Project Management – One of the most sought-after skills is the ability to lead a project from idea to completion.
  • Process Improvement – Industrial engineers need to review and find ways to improve the status quo.
  • SQL and Microsoft Access – Most industrial engineers need to manipulate data and identify patterns and weakness in the overall process.
  • Lean Manufacturing and Lean Process Engineering – This allows engineers to improve processes and find better means for creation.
  • Data Analysis – Along with data manipulation, industrial engineers come to conclusions and present what they find.
  • Microsoft Excel, Office, and PowerPoint – Most office jobs require knowledge of Microsoft Office to communicate and create sharable documents.
  • Critical Thinking – Engineers need to think of solutions and identify multiple possibilities for each problem they confront.
  • Strategic Planning – Launching too many changes will make it hard to measure the effect and can frustrate a team. Engineers need to plan what changes are made and when.
  • Adaptability – As problems arise, the industrial engineer needs to react to find solutions and improvements.
  • Attention to detail - Errors made by industrial engineers can affect the ability to launch projects and actually cost the company instead of saving money and time.
  • Presentation and public speaking – engineers need to explain why changes are needed and sell the adjustments to upper management.

Salary Expectations

When asked "how much do industrial engineers make," the answer depends on the experience, location, and the company the candidates are applying to. The median reported salary for industrial engineers in $73k, though entry-level engineers tend to start in the range of $40 to $50k. Most mid-level industrial engineers can expect to make between $48k and $75k, with some of the highest paid engineers making more than $90k annually. Most companies offer medical, dental, and vision benefits, along with these salaries, to continue enticing employees to work with the company.

Job Outlook for Industrial Engineers

Projected Growth

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects limited growth for industrial engineers between 2014 and 2024, as the job market is only expected to grow by 1 percent. Analysts are only predicting growth of 2,100 jobs, bringing the industry total to 241,100. This data suggests that most companies that want industrial engineers working to improve their company already have them and will continue to replace employees that are promoted or leave to work at other companies.

Career Trajectory

Industrial engineers can make major improvements within their companies, which can often lead to promotions into project management and operations. Once promoted, they continue to execute the projects that the industrial engineers propose and start managing the day-to-day challenges of managing a factory or distribution center. Wherever candidates land on the production chain, having the ability to think quickly to solve problems will be an asset that can lead to rapid promotions.

Industrial engineering is a great field for people who enjoy learning every aspect of how something works and then questioning those processes until they create something better. This is an ideal career trajectory if you enjoy taking things apart and finding better ways to assemble them again.