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Industrial Engineers


In today's industries, manufacturers increasingly depend on industrial engineers to determine the most efficient production techniques and processes. The roots of industrial engineering, however, can be traced to ancient Greece, where records indicate that manufacturing labor was divided among people having specialized skills.

The most significant milestones in industrial engineering, before the field even had an official name, occurred in the 18th century, when a number of inventions were introduced in the textile industry. The first was the flying shuttle that opened the door to the highly automatic weaving we now take for granted. This shuttle allowed one person, rather than two, to weave fabrics wider than ever before. Other innovative devices, such as the power loom and the spinning jenny that increased weaving speed and improved quality, soon followed. By the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Innovations in manufacturing were made, standardization of interchangeable parts was implemented, and specialization of labor was increasingly put into practice.

Industrial engineering as a science is said to have originated with the work of Frederick Taylor. In 1881, he began to study the way production workers used their time. At the Midvale Steel Company where he was employed, he introduced the concept of time study, whereby workers were timed with a stopwatch and their production was evaluated. He used the studies to design methods and equipment that allowed tasks to be done more efficiently.

In the early 1900s, the field was known as scientific management. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were influential with their motion studies of workers performing various tasks. Then, around 1913, automaker Henry Ford implemented a conveyor belt assembly line in his factory, which led to increasingly integrated production lines in more and more companies. Industrial engineers nowadays are called upon to solve ever more complex operating problems and to design systems involving large numbers of workers, complicated equipment, and vast amounts of information. They meet this challenge by utilizing advanced computers and software to design complex mathematical models and other simulations.

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