Ask the Expert: Lean


I'm interested in the changing role of the industrial engineer in a lean environment. Are there any behaviors, skills, or projects that are different for an IE transitioning from a traditional role to one that supports a lean manufacturing environment? What does a typical job description look like for an IE in a lean environment?


The changing role of the IE in a lean environment will require the following:

  • IEs will have to play the role of a catalyst for change. Working under champions such as the plant manager or the vice president, IEs will be able to do this. Traditionally, IEs were on management’s side — doing time studies to improve productivity — and sometimes attempting to help employees by making their jobs easier through ergonomics. In lean, IEs will have to be the true intermediaries, bridging the gap  between management’s expectations and the shop floor’s realities to reduce waste in all forms and maximize the ratio of value-added activities to non-value-added activities.
  • IEs will have to be value stream managers, leading the charge to optimize the entire value stream through participation and involvement of shop employees.
  • IEs will be called upon to create value stream maps, identifying kaizens needed for achieving the future state in the value stream maps and leading the kaizen activities to achieve the future state.
  • Many times, it is absolutely essential to simulate the envisioned future state on a computer before implementation, and IEs will be called upon to simulate value streams.
  • Finally, IEs will have to have knowledge in the implementation of other lean initiatives such as process improvement (Six Sigma), total preventive maintenance, setup reduction, pokayoke (mistake-proofing), cellular flow and plant redesign, and incorporating design for manufacturing and assembly concepts into products. Only through knowing these tools well will they be able to use them well.

Merwan Mehta, Ph.D.