66 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Tell us about your background and how you decided
to pursue a career in industrial engineering.
Everyone has a unique path in their career. My inspiration started from my
family. My father was the eldest among his siblings, and soon after World
War II, the aftermath was dicult for everybody. He had to stop schooling
intermittently, helping to bring food to the table as well as supporting his
younger siblings. When the family was experiencing nancial hardship
and couldn’t aord school, he often bought limited books and exchanged
them with his friends. His persistence in pursuing knowledge was one of
my motivations to study harder.
On the other hand, my mom was a schoolteacher who loved reading
and read to us when we were small. We had books with puzzle-solving,
science and math quizzes. My favorite was math and solving equations.
Where I grew up, math was not an emphasized subject and I didn’t know I
could make a living using math skills.
Eventually, I heard about engineering but did not really like big
machines or tiny circuit boards, so I wasn’t attracted to the eld until my
brother pointed out to me that engineering is not just typical mechanical,
electrical or civil, it was more than that. He encouraged me to explore
other engineering elds that dealt with machines and humans. That was
where I discovered industrial engineering and my love for math matched
it. I knew at that moment what I wanted, and the rest was history. This was
how I started my industrial engineering life: from college at Rochester
Institute of Technology, my co-op at HP, my career at Intel and later with
Though my career progression did not center around industrial
engineering, I leveraged industrial engineering in many aspects as I grew
in my career path. I realized industrial engineering is very adaptive and
can be applied in various functions in an organization.
What led you to Flex and your current role?
I spent years with Intel gaining a range of vertical experiences, including
industrial engineering, startups and environmental health and safety
(EHS), which allowed me to go in-depth to each core function. With Flex,
I had the opportunity to have a horizontal approach as a manager of a
team of Lean, Six Sigma, industrial engineers and EHS engineers. I took
on the opportunity as I knew it would add into my experience and further
enhance my love for industrial engineering.
Since being at Flex, using industrial engineering practices, we have
delivered our top performance with proper organizational structure
and resources. The majority of the projects completed included traces
of industrial engineering approaches and methodologies like being
With Sze Yee Thong
Sze Yee Thong is Global Business Excellence
Director for Flex. She began her industrial
engineering career at Intel and has practiced Lean
in manufacturing for more than 20 years. She has
held various managerial positions in industrial
and manufacturing engineering, operation and
project teams and served as a senior manager
of Lean and Six Sigma experts at Flex. Her
role as global business excellence director
involves productivity improvement projects
and conducting global technical workshops.
She is a master trainer of the Flex Capability
Acceleration Program conducting training
across regions for Flex industrial engineers
and serves as a committee member with The
Institution of Engineers and Malaysia Electronics
Engineering Technical Division. She has written
numerous technical articles, conducted
forums and lectures and led workshops on Lean
practices. Sze Yee holds a bachelor’s degree in
industrial engineering from Rochester Institute
of Technology and earned her doctoral degree
in manufacturing engineering from University
Malaysia at Perlis. She lives in Malaysia and is a
senior member of IISE.
To be competitive, the practices of OpEx cannot
be confined to just a few areas in a company.
It must be from the top to bottom of the hierarchy
chain and end to end across the value stream;
OpEx is for everyone.
November 2023 | ISE Magazine 67
systematical, creative, considering human factors,
continuously improving, data-driven, optimizing
resources, and with a light touch of art.
With unique approaches in running the organization,
I was invited to join the plant business excellence team
and later expanded to regional and global business
excellence. The business excellence role provided me
with a more fun” and “diversied” platform to leverage
my ISE technical expertise and experiences instead
of rigid industrial engineering computations. I was
able to collaborate with dierent departments and
business functions solving diverse types of problems
and situations. With that, I was challenged, relearned
and modied my skill sets and resiliency in industrial
What key elements in the Flex OpEx global
program make it eective?
Flex OpEx started with a high degree of discipline
in our program; for example, project reviews and
documentation, reporting and updating formats, kaizen
workshop protocols, mandatory best practices yokoten,
etc. The highly disciplined execution enables the program
to move fast and deploy with a high penetration rate
and the ability to replicate across the corporation. In
recent years, we have adjusted our program to balance a
systematic approach with exibility. For example:
We proactively and continuously diversify our
value-added services and programs for our internal
stakeholders from all business segments and
nonmanufacturing functions.
We collaborate externally with customers, suppliers
and organizations such as IISE, the Association for
Manufacturing Excellence, the World Economic Forum
and more.
We organize benchmarking for the Flex Senior
Leadership Team, visiting other companies to
understand their OpEx and digitization programs. We
facilitate Flex Lighthouse Factories with WEF for other
manufacturers to learn from us.
We designed the program that facilitates Flex
digitization transformation and collaborate with INCIT
(International Centre for Industrial Transformation)
to perform Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI)
Describe some global trends you see in
manufacturing and application of Lean,
Six Sigma and operational excellence.
For years, the word manufacturing has been associated
with the image of monotonous work with manual laborers
working with machines or lines in a not-so-pleasant work
environment. However, the reality is that manufacturing
has changed. Robots and automation play key roles in
manufacturing, and the work environment is clean, safe
and comfortable. The manufacturing industry is leading
continuous improvement eorts and becoming a place
that provides opportunities to have rsthand experience
in the transformation process, an agent and part of the
solution for intelligent automation, not just a user.
Industry 4.0 has become a buzzword and a trend, but
many companies approach it without proper strategy.
From my experience, we need to understand and
improve the current state/eciency before jumping
into automation in order to prevent unnecessary waste.
Lean, Six Sigma, operational excellence and industrial
engineering techniques help crystalize these improved
processes. To be competitive, the practices of OpEx
cannot be conned to just a few areas in a company. It
must be from the top to bottom of the hierarchy chain and
end to end across the value stream; OpEx is for everyone.
What qualities does a young ISE need
to succeed in this business climate?
From what I see today, college degree programs are
helping students learn and exposing them to the business
environment before graduation, which is great. The new
generation is ooded with easily accessible information,
but the authenticity of the information is critical. Young
ISEs need to know how to dierentiate between what is
real or false. It can be overwhelming at times, but it is key
to do it right as they always say, “garbage in, garbage out.
ISE is a unique engineering eld that has proven to
contribute in many industries and dierent organizational
functions. So stay active and creative, curious to explore
and be courageous to try.
– Interview by Keith Albertson
Sze Yee Thong delivers a keynote address at the IISE Lean
Six Sigma & Data Science Conference in September 2022 in
Photo by IISE sta