At the Intersection of IE and IT

By Tamara Wilhite posted 02-20-2019 10:36:24 AM


I recently read an ASME magazine article suggesting that all mechanical engineering students learn how to code. The general idea was that robotics was increasingly integrated into products they used. They didn’t discuss what languages were practical, and there is a chasm between HTML5 and languages used for data mining relative to what will run your programmable legos. Industrial engineering, too, is becoming more reliant on IT. However, I’m not going to say “learn to code”. Instead, my advice is to learn what software tools you truly need to know in order to do your job, regardless of your specialty.

Just as the average person benefits from learning how to track their expenses and run reports in software like Quicken, IEs should learn the basics of the major ERP and MRP tools. I’ve used this knowledge in nearly every IE related job I’ve held, primarily SAP. I would say that training on SAP or JD Power’s equivalent software would have been more useful than the Fortran and SAS I learned in college.

Quality engineering has been part of industrial engineering since the beginning. The only major shift has been the automation of data collection and growth of tools to analyze it. Being able to study, analyze and manage data in Excel is a minimum. Data mining may be something to add to the class roster if the Internet of Things starts throwing quality and production engineers masses of data to wade through for the few things of interest to them. I’ve noticed that geometric tolerancing is becoming more popular in places of the standard plus or minus a thousandth of an inch. The 5% chance of two parts interfering with each other is more obvious when the CAD modeling software tells you about it, but we should know that risk and have a plan to deal with it before that notice pops up.

Reliability engineering still relies on probability to predict outcomes and their potential outcomes. The only change here is the computer modeling involved. Learning tools to do so is beneficial if you’re going in that direction.

Manufacturing is increasingly automated. The expanding network of sensors reporting data on everything from temperatures to vibration levels to little electrical glitches is going to make data mining a routine part of root cause analysis someday. I don’t think we’re going to get totally dark factories where no one needs to be in the factory. The high cost of automation isn’t worth it when product changeovers are so common, and competition for the remaining jobs keeps labor costs from going up. Therefore, we’re not going to eliminate the need for ergonomics, user interface design or safety in manufacturing. Safety systems are getting smarter as the appearance of laser guard systems demonstrates.

What is occurring is the expansion of health trackers from your fitness monitor to a safety monitor. Tell me how dangerous the delivery driver and forklift driver are when driving, and notify management if someone’s body temperature is too high.

All of these tools and technologies are altering how we do our jobs, but none of them eliminate any core area of industrial engineering.

What technologies have you seen implemented in the workplace and how is it impacting your job?