Industrial Engineers – Improving Processes for More EfficiencyFebruary 16, 2021 To be competitive in the global market, Oregon producers must concentrate on both efficiency and quality. Because manufacturing and some services can be outsourced overseas for lower labor costs and looser environmental regulations, process efficiency for domestic producers becomes more important than ever. That’s where industrial engineers (IEs) come in.
IEs design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes. This includes human work factors, quality control, inventory control, logistics, cost analysis, and production coordination. Lean manufacturing and just-in-time inventories are examples of some of the processes developed by industrial engineering.
There were 4,146 IEs in Oregon in 2019, with about 84% employed in the Portland area. It has the third most employment of engineering disciplines behind civil engineers (4,432) and mechanical engineers (4,306).
Industries of Employment
The concepts of industrial engineering can be applied to processes in any industry. In Oregon, however, most IEs (78%) are employed in manufacturing and, in particular, computer and electronics manufacturing.
Although industrial engineering is generally associated with manufacturing, employment of IEs in the professional, scientific and technical services, transportation and warehousing, and other services industries is evidence that the concepts of industrial engineering can be applied to many of the service industries.
Industrial Engineers Can be Good for the Environment
There is a green aspect to the IE occupation, especially in the manufacturing and transportation industries. Processes that are more efficient can use less energy and produce less pollution per unit of output.
As Hector Vergara at the Oregon State University College of Engineering says, “One of the most important outcomes of industrial engineering is improved processes. These improved processes can have the side benefit of less emission and waste.”
High-Wage, High-Skill Occupation
In 2019, hourly wages for industrial engineers in Oregon varied from a starting wage of $29.30 per hour to $62.69 at the higher end of the scale. The average annual wage was $92,523 in 2020, making it a high-wage occupation.
To earn those high wages, a variety of skills are needed. According to the Oregon State University College of Engineering, “IEs apply science, mathematics, and engineering methods to complex system integration and operations. Because these systems are so large and complex, IEs need to have knowledge and skills in a wide variety of disciplines, the ability to work well with people, and a broad, systems perspective.”
Since IEs must be familiar with the final product or service, information gathering is a big part of the job. That means being able to work with people from a variety of backgrounds.
IEs also must determine the most effective way to use the basic factors of production such as labor, capital, and energy to make a product or provide a service. This requires the ability to apply basic engineering theory, math, and statistics; read production layouts; and be familiar with accounting and budgeting concepts.
Industrial engineering is unique in that it includes the human factor in processes. The attitude and wellbeing of the people involved in a process can affect efficiency. Therefore, in addition to the skills normally associated with engineering, active listening and problem sensitivity are included in the skill set.
Finally, a variety of computer programs are used. Examples are computer-aided design (CAD), analytic and scientific software, industrial control software such as computer numerical control (CNC), and human machine interface software.
To obtain the necessary skills to gain employment as an IE, workers must have a bachelor's degree. However, those with a master's degree have a competitive advantage. In Oregon, only Oregon State University has a program that offers a bachelor’s and post graduate degree in industrial engineering. Portland State offers a similar degree in systems engineering. Clackamas Community College offers an associate’s degree and other postsecondary training in industrial engineering.
IEs must also be registered as professional engineers, which they achieve by passing an exam administered by the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.
According to the Oregon Employment Department's employment projections, the number of industrial engineers is projected to grow by 17.5% from 2019 to 2029 with 380 projected annual openings. Replacement openings make up 81% of the annual openings due largely to the aging labor force and retirements.
To be competitive in a global economy, Oregon companies must make a quality product in an efficient, environmentally sound way. Industrial engineers help keep Oregon companies competitive by developing efficient processes using materials, machines, information, energy, and workers to make a product or provide a service.
Industrial engineers are highly paid, but a postsecondary education, either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, is required. In addition, IEs need to develop skills from a wide variety of disciplines and have the ability to work well with people from different backgrounds.