Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

For a better world, quit waiting and listen to ISEs

How long should the world wait for a great idea?

For Luud Schimmelpennink’s dream of shared bicycles as valid public transportation, it took decades. For Conrad Tucker’s integration of virtual reality into education, manufacturing and healthcare, hopefully not so long.

Amsterdam’s Schimmelpennink and Tucker, a Penn State assistant professor, are ISE magazine’s 2017 Engineers Who Make a Difference.

But a little caveat applies: After being rescued from newspapers, I quickly concluded that nearly every industrial engineer makes a difference somewhere.

Whether it’s helping your factory produce quality goods or slimming that bloated supply chain, ISEs are worth more than any legislator or bureaucrat I’ve run across.

Just examine the work of this year’s laureates.

In the 1960s, Schimmelpennink and the Dutch movement Provo took the counter-cultural route toward change management. They initiated stunts to get people to think, things like leaving bikes around Amsterdam for people to share. Fifty years later, the world has more than 1 million shared bicycles, with China and several European cities leading the way.

In tight cities, bicycles fit better than cars, pollute less and cost pennies compared to trains and buses. Heck, a DePaul University study just found that biking is faster than Uber or public transportation in Chicago.

So why did such a bang-up idea wither for years?

Well, authorities don’t like ideas – even great ones – that spawn from groups with anarchist tendencies. And as Schimmelpennink still maintains, it’s tough getting permission from politicians to make things better.

Hopefully, it doesn’t take five decades for some of Tucker’s research to go mainstream. Imagine engineering students building prototypes and improving processes in immersive reality, personalized healthcare interventions based on big data, and training programs that cost tens of thousands of dollars in augmented reality versus the millions it takes to build a machine shop.

As Tucker noted, such tools and technologies allow for more personalized choices – and better outcomes – in every aspect of life.

So click here and see some positive world transformation. And encourage politicians to let engineers lead the way. Perhaps Schimmelpennink’s vision of shared electric cars will blossom before 2066.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.