What is an Industrial Engineer: Everything you Need to Know

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Understanding industrial engineering can be confusing because of the overlap between various engineering sectors. 

You have probably heard of industrial engineers working in industries such as business, finance, and construction. These are just a few examples. 

So, what exactly is an industrial engineer’s role? What can they do and not do?  

We will look over:

  • What industrial engineering is and where it began
  • What industrial engineers do
  • Schooling requirements for various sectors of industrial engineering
  • What differentiates industrial engineers from other types of engineers
  • Where industrial engineers can work 
  • How to hire an industrial engineer 
  • What it costs to hire an industrial engineer

Phew, that’s a lot… we just want to be thorough. 

But, before we dive in, I want to make a distinction.  The purpose of this blog is to educate you on industrial engineers. 

Here at Complete Building Solutions, we have licensed civil and structural engineers that perform industrial work. This means our engineers are legally qualified to perform engineering on industrial projects. 

I say this because not all industrial engineers are licensed professional engineers (PE). If their desired career does NOT require them to submit signed/sealed engineering plans/drawings to a public authority for approval, they may not need a PE. 

We will continue to explain the difference between a licensed PE and an engineer throughout this blog (Remember, all engineers at Complete Building Solutions are licensed PE’s).    

Are you ready?  Let’s go.

What is Industrial Engineering?

industrial engineering

Industrial engineering is a branch of engineering that focuses on developing the most efficient systems possible for the task at hand.

Math and social science is used in conjunction with engineering analysis and design skills to evaluate how existing systems can be improved upon or how new systems can be designed to most efficiently address questions like worker and environmental safety, production speed and costs, incorporation of updated technology, and zero error functionality.

In short, industrial engineers are all about eliminating waste (wasted time, space, money, etc) wherever they can. 

Let’s dig a little deeper. 

When did Industrial Engineering begin?

industrial engineering roots

Industrial engineering has its roots in the industrial revolution. As manual operations started being replaced by machines, industrial engineering was born.

Mass production was a new concept and required a skill set that was capable of streamlining the process and utilizing all the factors involved in an efficient way.

A few examples of technologies that used industrial engineering skills are the steam engine, the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the modern factory.

What does an Industrial Engineer Do?

industrial engineers at work

This is a loaded question. Industrial engineers can work in many fields including manufacturing, construction, service, marketing, finance, information systems, transportation, social services, railroads, banks, mining, airlines, and hospitals. 

Wow! That’s a lot, I know. 

There are even freelance industrial engineers who work on smaller in-and-out type projects. 

So, what type of tasks do industrial engineers do within these various industries?

Again, this is a loaded question. It all depends on the type of project at hand. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • In manufacturing- The engineer may have been hired to streamline an assembly line. They may start by reviewing production schedules, worker activities, and engineering specifications to evaluate the current system and develop potential updates or new strategies. Perhaps the plant’s conveyor belt is poorly designed, the engineer would pinpoint this and update the design. Distinction: The engineer could legally engineer the design if they are a licensed PE. If not, their role may be more centered around the assembly process and any design work could be hired out. 
industrial engineer working in a factory
  • In transportation- The engineer may have been hired to create a more efficient system for the transportation of goods. This may include determining the most lucrative location for warehouses. If the engineer is a licensed PE, they may even engineer pallets for efficient trucking. Pallet weight and member sizing would be considered during this process. 
industrial engineer working on a loading dock
  • In finance- The engineer may have been hired to develop a management control system which could be used for financial planning and cutting costs. 
  • Hospitals- The engineer may have been hired to design a floor plan that efficiently uses space and pays attention to flow and the special safety regulations a hospital requires. If the engineer were a licensed PE, they would consider the structural strength of the building, ensuring that heavy medical equipment and other loads could easily be supported. 
remodeling a hospital

Just remember, in general, industrial engineers are hired to evaluate and eliminate waste. This could mean wasted space, time, resources, etc.  

What is covered in an industrial engineer’s schooling?

2 industrial engineers working on a project

Industrial engineering is a sought after bachelors degree. The degree covers a broad spectrum of engineering topics which allows for careers in nearly every sector of the market. 

It combines technical skills with business courses such as logistics, supply chain management and analytics as well as systems theory, design or analysis, ergonomics/safety, stochastics, optimization, advanced mathematics, computation or modeling, and/or engineering economics. These courses are all intended to teach students to solve issues and streamline industrial processes.

Other engineering degrees, such as civil or mechanical engineering, focus heavily on engineering principles with the goal of engineering machines or structures.

See the difference here?

Industrial engineers look at making industrial processes more efficient while civil, structural and mechanical engineers focus on engineering working machines (mechanical) or strong structures (civil/structural). 

Once an industrial engineering student obtains their bachelors degree, they may decide to enter the workforce immediately (initially as an intern) or go on to get their master’s degree. A masters degree is not a requirement, but it definitely increases one’s chances of higher earnings and employment prospects. 

Remember, unlike fields such as civil, structural, and mechanical engineering, industrial engineers aren’t required to obtain licensure as a PE or FE (Remember, Complete Building Solutions ONLY hires licensed PE’s). Depending on what the engineer’s goals are, they may want to obtain the licensure.

Sample of an licensed PE’s stamp
Sample of a licensed PE’s stamp

For example, if the engineer plans to dabble in structural, civil or mechanical engineering fields, they would need to get their licensure. On top of this, having the licensure opens career doors that unlicensed industrial engineer’s would not have access to. It’s another way to earn more, advance quicker, and get offered the best opportunities. 

How is an industrial engineer different from other types of engineers?

  • Mechanical 
mechanical engineer vs. industrial engineer

There is definitely some overlap in the career opportunities for mechanical and industrial engineers. However, in general, mechanical engineers are more involved with the design and build of mechanical devices while industrial engineers bridge the gap between business and engineering to make systems more profitable. Mechanical, think machines. Industrial, think eliminating waste. 

For example, a mechanical engineer may dive into the combustion, thermodynamics and electricity specs necessary to develop complicated machines. 

An industrial engineer may look at a plant’s assembly line and strategically assess the flow, safety protocols, product output, etc. 

structural industrial engineer working on a project

Structural industrial engineers deal with anything having to do with an industrial complex physically. If the building is having an issue, a structural industrial engineer would perform an inspection, or if an addition or new component were to be added to the building, a structural industrial engineer would do the necessary engineering work. 

Listed below are examples of work structural industrial engineers could perform: 

  • Engineering for office installs in a warehouse
  • Engineering work for a new concrete driveway
  • Engineering for parking ramps
  • Loading dock engineering 
  • Structural load calculations/engineering for install of a new conveyor belt or other heavy equipment such as racks, assembly line equipment, or machinery 
  • Engineering for solar panel installs
  • Engineering for suspended ceiling installs
  • Engineering for water line install 
  • Inspections/solutions for water intrusion issues such as leaks or excess water on a flat roof 

Note: The structural industrial engineers at Complete Building Solutions are ready to help you with any of your needs.

  • Commercial
commercial vs. industrial engineering

Often, there is confusion about the difference between industrial and commercial engineering. In general, industrial has to do with businesses that manufacture goods while commercial has to do with any business whose sole goal is to make a profit aka deals with commerce.

An industrial engineer would deal with industrial buildings and businesses while a commercial engineer would deal with commercial buildings and businesses (there can be overlap). 

Examples of Industrial Buildings: 

industrial engineers walking in a factory
  • Factories
  • Warehouses
  • Flex buildings
  • R&D buildings

Industrial buildings are primarily concerned with functionality, floor plan layouts, and strong structural components capable of carrying heavy loads. This is to ensure a safe work environment and profitable business. You can find these buildings located on the outskirts of town or near major highways or airports for easy access to transportation of goods produced.

Examples of Commercial Buildings:

beautiful store front
  • Retail buildings
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping centers
  • Office buildings

Commercial buildings heavily factor in aesthetics and location. Since consumers directly interact with these buildings, they are designed to be pleasing to the eye and easily accessed. Note: Aesthetics of a building are typically handled by an architect. It takes a team of professionals to plan and execute a commercial (or industrial) project. Read on for more info. 

What type of industrial engineer deals with new construction? 

structural engineers working on new construction site

Structural engineers, specifically structural industrial or commercial engineers, deal with new construction. They will work with a team of professionals to reach their project goals. The process may look something like this: 

Site investigation: Before a project even begins, the building site must be inspected to ensure it’s suitability for the intended structure. Many industrial structural engineers have knowledge about soils and landscape. They will inspect the property and determine if the existing soils are safe to build on and, if not, could recommend a soil correction or a new location all together. This step is absolutely essential to avoiding long term water intrusion issues. 

engineer performing a soil inspection

Construction plans: Next, an industrial structural engineer will work with a design team and architect to develop construction plans. Factors such as floor plan, safety regulations, and flow would all be considered. Most of the design portion of the plans will be left to the architect while the structural components (from the soil to the rooftop) fall upon the structural industrial engineer. Structural load details such as foundation design, header/beam sizing, live load, dead load, and environmental loads such as wind thermal and/or seismic will be added to the plan. Without these details, the building could not stand. 

planning a construction project

Project Management: When construction begins, the industrial structural engineer will continue to play a vital role in the success of the project. They may have been hired to manage the project by ensuring that all work meets applicable codes and safety regulations. Industrial developers or owners often hire a structural industrial engineer to manage their projects because it prevents construction defects or residual issues down the road.

On top of this, the structural industrial engineer will be needed if any structural changes are made to the plan along the way. Not all structural changes are obvious such as adding a floor, moving a staircase, or removing walls. There are many changes requiring an industrial engineer that would surprise you such as: installing heavier machines than planned, granite countertops, moving a water line, pianos, larger delivery trucks driving on concrete driveway, etc.

installing heavy equipment into a building

Where does an Industrial Engineer Work-

Industrial engineers work within various companies to identify waste, improve production and distribution systems. These companies could be in nearly any industry as we discussed above. 

List of fields industrial engineers could work in & corresponding examples:

  • Project management: scheduling or risk management 
  • Process improvement: Root cause analysis, statistical methods, or time studies
  • Integrated systems: Facilities layout, production system design, or value stream analysis
  • Structural (requiring PE): Conveyor belt, suspended ceiling design, or moisture intrusion issues
  • Supply chain analysis: Supplier support, material logistic, or inventory control
  • Operations development: Operating plans or capacity planning
  • Direct assistance to production: Budgets and predictions, production scheduling, or defect analysis

Listed below are a few examples of companies who hire industrial engineers: 

Mercedez Benz
  • Amazon.com, Chief Engineer
  • Amway Corp., Manager of Distribution Engineering
  • Chick-Fil-A, Systems Engineer
  • Covenant Health, Director of Management Engineering
  • Complete Building Solutions, Chief Structural Industrial Engineer
  • FedEx, Manager of Process Engineering
  • Hewlett-Packard, Facilities Planning Engineer
  • Mercedes-Benz – US Int’l Inc., Controller
  • The Gap Inc., Director of Operations and Engineering

How to know if I need an Industrial Engineer-

Do I need an industrial engineer?

First, you must determine what industry you are in. Is your project residential, commercial, or industrial?

If you answered industrial, then you will need to hire an industrial engineer. 

If you aren’t sure, read the above section on the difference between a commercial and industrial engineer. 

Then, you need to determine what your issue is. The list below are all examples of when you may need an industrial engineer: 

  • You want to know if your factory is physically set up to maximize profits: The layout of a factory can absolutely affect your bottom line. Industrial engineers are able to analyze your current system and determine how to make that system better. This could mean moving equipment around, updating machinery ( i.e. installing a faster conveyor belt), or streamlining your delivery systems. If you have questions regarding the physical aspects of the factory (ie-is the floor strong enough for heavy machinery or is the existing foundation crack indicative of a structural failure), you will need a licensed structural industrial engineer. 
maximizing profits in a factory
  • You want to update your factory’s equipment and need to ensure the building is capable of carrying the new loads: Whenever you install additional loads in a building, you must make sure the structure is capable of supporting those loads. Buildings are engineered to a standard developed to accommodate the load capacity of MOST buildings. This standard may not always satisfy the needs of businesses with ultra heavy equipment, machinery, or products. In order to ensure the safety of your building, a licensed structural industrial engineer should perform an inspection prior to the install of new equipment or other forms of heavy loads. . 
  • You work in the supply chain and fear your current system could be improved upon: Perhaps your company produces goods that are shipped by train. This may not be the most effective way to get that specific product to its final destination. As an industrial engineer, you may be hired to work with a team to develop a more efficient shipment strategy for the product. This could entail creating a new communication system, switching the mode of transportation, engineering the floor support in the new vehicle to ensure it’s capable of hauling the equipment (requiring a licensed structural industrial engineer!), designing a refrigerator system to ensure the product does not spoil, rearranging the floor plan at the warehouse to make the loading process easier etc. 
supply chain
  • Your company wants to minimize the number of paper printouts and go more digital: This may seem like a minor problem, but ultimately could prevent company growth hence why an industrial engineer may be hired to solve this issue. One solution could be developing an app to handle any or all paperwork. 
  • You want to implement a machine maintenance plan: A factory filled with thousands of machines needs to stay on top of maintenance. If a machine is broken, the entire production line slows down or stops. An industrial engineer could help develop a plan to keep these machines up and running for the long term. A licensed structural industrial engineer could also develop a maintenance plan for the building itself. They may look for things like floor joist strength, roof/truss conditions, foundation strength, or inspect for moisture intrusion that could be responsible for breaking down building materials. 
building maintenance planning
  • You want to install a new loading lock: Installing a new loading dock will require engineering from a structural industrial engineer. They will consider factors such as OSHA requirements, building code requirements, soils/pavement, apron space, landing strip, and stormwater management, just to name a few. 
  • You are implementing the renovation at a hospital: Renovations require a team of people to ensure the success of the project. The architect will help develop the floor plan, the licensed engineer will implement all load calculations, and a contractor will do the actual build.  Other responsibilities of the engineer could be project management, ensuring all work is built to applicable codes and safety regulations, assisting the architect with the floor plan considering flow, storage, patient privacy, and efficient use of space. 
  • You are a credit card company wanting to develop and implement a neural algorithm into your card approval process: More and more credit card companies are using algorithms to save time when looking at applications. Industrial engineers have some schooling in neural algorithms and could help develop this system. 
neural algorithm
  • And the list goes on…

How to hire an industrial engineer-

hiring an industrial engineer

Hiring a good industrial engineer is paramount to  the success of your project. Here are a few tips and tricks when starting your search. 

Referral: There is nothing better than getting a good referral. Perhaps someone in your department has already been working with a great industrial engineer or a friend in a different industry may surprise you with a connection. You won’t know unless you ask around. Knowing the engineer does good work will certainly bring you peace of mind. 

Google: Hopping on the internet and simply googling “industrial engineering firms near me” is also a good option. You can read the online reviews to narrow down the options. Then, give each company a call. If you still are uncertain about your decision, ask for some references and call those. 

Industrial engineering firms near me

Ask your contractor- Contractors often have a preferred industrial engineer they work with. This makes your life easier because the contractor can handle the details of hiring and delegating work. Plus, there’s a reason your contractor prefers them, they must do good work in a timely manner.

What to expect when you hire an industrial engineer- 

what to expect when hiring an industrial engineer

Every industrial engineer or engineering firm has their own unique process of completing work which can vary project to project. In general, you can expect to: 

  1. Meet with your engineer to discuss the project goals
  2. The engineer will assess the project and provide you with quotes, timelines and/or contracts
  3. The project will start & the engineer will provide you with regular updates
  4. Project completion 

How much does it cost to hire an industrial engineer? 

cost to hire an industrial engineer

Most engineering firms either charge per hour or by percent of the project.

If they charge by hour, on average, the engineering firms charge could be anywhere from $200-400/hour. 

If they charge by percent of the project, it’s typically about 1-2% of the project total. 

These prices account for paying a project manager, senior engineer, design engineer, CADD operator, and administrative fees. Engineering firms also have overhead in the form of: office space, computers/phones, technology, expensive engineering software, vehicles, ongoing education, and inspection tools such as ladders, lasers, thermal cameras etc. 

Well, that’s it. 

Hopefully this blog provided you with some basic information on what industrial engineers actually do. If you are looking for structural industrial engineering such as: modifications to your warehouse floor plan, adding loads to an existing structure, loading dock engineering, or answers to moisture intrusion issues, please feel free to contact Complete Building Solutions at 763-544-3355.

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