Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

They say they want a revolution

My first inkling of continuous process improvement came through this magazine. The evolutionary notion of making things better by a few percentage points here and there, cumulatively transforming the enterprise, runs contrary to today's general social ethos of rapid innovation.

Still, CPI works, as our readers know. A minute here and 2 percent there soon add hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars to the bottom line.

However, in this month's cover story, Timothy Sprock and Leon F. McGinnis call for something completely different. "Let's truly add systems to industrial engineering" posits that putting "S" on the IE tagline requires a revolution.

Yes, the IISE name now includes "systems." And IEs build and rely on system models to help with decision-making. But many models are one-offs, difficult to maintain and reuse. Incorporating the step-by-step design methodology common among other engineering disciplines could generate reference models. Add in integrated analysis tools, and newly minted ISEs could develop plug-and-play models that can answer, say, how best to configure a pallet rack for a particular storage capacity.

Such domain-specific models for warehouses, transportation systems, manufacturing plants, hospitals and healthcare delivery systems would move the profession toward model-based industrial and systems engineering. While systems engineers build such models, that profession typically doesn't tackle the IE discipline's issues of production, distribution, deployment and life cycle of the product system.

That's where IEs need to step up, the authors claim. Model components and patterns must be reusable and interchangeable. "Real" ISEs should be able to produce high-quality, verifiable answers to routine questions: What happens when I put subsystem A into complete system B?

New methods must filter into teaching, research and practice. As an example, the authors suggest adding formal systems modeling to the ISE curriculum.

Shall the revolutionary ISE of the future design systems, implement and optimize them or provide analysis? Or will subspecialists do one or another, with generalists dabbling a bit in each? Turn to Page 28 and see what you think.

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