Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

August 2013    |    Volume: 45    |    Number: 8

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

My Account    |     Create Login


Ike’s right: Lean is made for flexibility

Professor William “Ike” Eisenhauer is right on target in his Health Systems piece “Variety Can Destroy Variety” in June’s Industrial Engineer. I would just like to suggest that all that variety in healthcare makes it a job shop, and several of lean’s basics are just the ticket as aids in job-shop management and process improvement.

Fortunately, healthcare has caught the lean bug, which should mean heavy involvement in managing its high variety through cross-training and job rotation, quick setup/quick changeover, 5S, TPM, Ishikawa’s seven basic tools for capturing nonconformities, bar-coding and RFID on “everything,” and so on.

I’ll add that lean is supposed to be largely about flexibly quick customer response, whether in repetitive or high-variety settings, but that the flexibility part too often gets drowned out in manufacturing applications. An overzealous drive to “reduce variability in the process” – to use Eisenhauer’s words – probably is part of the problem.

Richard J. Schonberger
Independent research/author/speaker
Bellevue, Wash.

Industrial engineering needed for next-level initiatives

In response to the Member Forum column “The IE-Stockholder Relationship” in June’s Industrial Engineer, my comments are directed at the topic of industrial engineering at the factory level in companies. I am a former senior member of IIE, and I have worked in industrial engineering, have held managerial positions, and also have been involved in corporate initiatives.

In my career the diminished role of industrial engineering at the factory level has been evident in companies from the food industry to electronics (Nestle, Stouffer’s and Kraft, among others). Cases have seen an entire industrial engineering department of 10 eliminated, the elimination of the sole IE, a department consisting of only one IE with no staff to take additional responsibility for a second factory, a vastly reduced role of IE, and, of great concern, people with no industrial engineering training in IE positions. It is a mistake to undervalue the role this way.

These cases are offset by those in which companies have recruited IEs to improve performance in manufacturing operations. However, even then there exists a problem in the retention of IEs, as the initial reasons for hiring them are forgotten later or misunderstood. A tendency to undervalue industrial engineering after it has helped a company improve is too prevalent. After a more empowered workforce has been created, assisted by effective performance management systems at the production/manufacturing level, it is thought too often that industrial engineering is needed no longer. This often happens after the development and implementation of improvement techniques and systems.

What these decisions fail to appreciate is industrial engineering’s role in bringing about such improvements, and that diminishing the role prevents further improvements that have such an impact. The misunderstood idea is that if aspects of industrial engineering can be amalgamated into systems supporting manufacturing, then we no longer need the role of industrial engineering. This short-term thinking misses the bigger picture.

The next milestone initiative or plateau in manufacturing excellence will not be achieved after the initiative, which, while helping the workforce with a more participatory environment or with implementing performance improvement management systems, eliminates industrial engineers. While the last improvement achieved with the help of industrial engineering has brought about these workplace benefits, and as effective as they are in maintaining the status quo and making incremental improvements to existing methods, they are not capable of bringing the overall work or its systems to the next level.

The needed skills are lost when industrial engineers are eliminated, and yet they were instrumental in initially bringing about the new status quo. The business is now hard-pressed to conduct the same assessment, analysis, design and development, testing, debugging and implementation with an appreciation for new manufacturing models, approaches and technologies.

The role that figuratively puts itself out of a job should not be slated for elimination; it is ready for bigger goals.

Frank Riganelli
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Send letters to Michael Hughes at or to IIE, 3577 Parkway Lane, Suite 200, Norcross, GA 30092. Correspondence to the editorial staff is treated as a letter to the editor unless otherwise indicated. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity. Include your city and state of residence or employment. Letters from anonymous authors will not be published, but we will consider requests to publish letters with the author’s name withheld.