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Productivity is our middle name

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Our Productivity and Industrial Engineering Books, click cover for contents

Industrial Engineering includes the contents of Time and Motion Study, Layout, and Cost Reduction; but not Construction Piece Rates .

Productivity and Management Article Series click for Index

Industrial Engineering, a continuing productivity influence

Industrial Engineering contributes to productivity in many ways because it can improve performance throughout the P&L, the balance sheet, and customer service. Industrial Engineering tools can quantify and lower costs in administration, government, health care, labs, installation, maintenance, energy, the service industry, quality, materials, facility management as well as the production floor.

Classic IE tools Classic IE tools to define and improve operations include time and motion study, workplace and floor layout, simplification, constraints management, flow process, materials handling, and standard costing. Many successful modern practices, notably the ones which have developed from the Toyota Production System, include the principles that were first expressed by Frederick Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreath. Industrial Engineering embraces all of these ideas, and whatever else will be developed to support efficiency and productivity.

See my companion article, for titles Manufacturing Productivity Toolbelt; Classic and Modern, Public Domain and Proprietary, for greater detail about the multitude of specialized techniques that industrial engineers practice. Learn the background in this article, then choose from the Toolbelt article what IE technology to apply.

Pardon me if I do not address IE in the information technology context because I am not experienced there, but there are plenty of IE's who do very good work in IT.

What is included in Industrial Engineering?
According to our professional society the Institute of Industrial Engineers, "Industrial engineering is concerned with the design, improvement and installation of integrated systems of people, materials, information, equipment and energy."

IIE goes on to comment on the flexibility of IEs, and our goal of saving companies money and increasing efficiencies. That's us, all right. IIE is at

So, IE covers a broad field, and that is really the point of this article: The opportunity for improvement is vast, and there are many proven IE practices to employ, tools to use.

Which IE tools will be useful? Prioritize the issues to get started.
Your own circumstances will govern the potential and the tools that will likely yield the best results. First define the situation, then prioritize the issues. The Pareto Principle, or ABC, or 80/20 rule will always be the initial tool to use. Pareto suggests that a small number of problems will have a large effect; likewise a few actions will contribute the largest improvement. List and prioritize problems in order to isolate the most significant concerns for you today.

Issues in your organization may be cost, or they may be customer service, or quality, or delivery, or sales, or the current economy. Perhaps at the moment the problems are not lack of qualified people or under-capacity in output, but that day will return.
After prioritization you will be ready to determine which IE tool or tools will be the most cost effective in your particular case.

Outside the box
IE tools are not outside the box; they tend to be well understood and defined, But if you will think outside the box as you consider how to use them, you can optimize effect and payback.

After you identify and prioritize the important issues, select IE tools to define the situation and quantify potential; usually the solution will be more clear once the facts are well understood. This is where thinking outside the box can help. For instance what is perceived as low output from labor can be due to another factor entirely; too frequent changeovers, or equipment breakdown, or lack of parts to process, or unevenly assigned work, or mis-managed constraints. Scope out the real problem with an IE tool that is general enough to encompass the entire picture.

As you think outside the box, refrain from "type-casting" an IE tool. Most of our classic techniques such as work measurement, methods, layout, and flow process were in fact developed for factory operations. But they are just as effective when used elsewhere in today's economy where cost and output concerns are evident in administration, health care, government, installation, customer ervice, labs, new product introduction, quality, materials flow, distribution, inventory; in any part of the P&L or balance sheet.

Continue to think outside the box as you select the IE tools to quantify the situation, and then move on to solve it. For instance, consider a constraint to be any impediment to output and not just a machine; manage any constraint to reduce its effect. Your operations may be fine examples of planning and staffing and good layout and flow and safe practices and efficiency and accountability; the next step is to apply those same principles to what may be your big-ticket spending items; overhead and paperwork and customer service and energy and discretionary spending.

Differentiate the tools and the objectives
Your primary corporate purpose is probably akin to the basic Toyota objective, "making a profit, and satisfying the customer with the highest possible quality at the lowest cost in the shortest lead-time, while developing the talents and skills of its workforce through rigorous improvement routines and problem solving disciplines." Toyota did not set out to invent just in time, or kaizan events, or value stream mapping; such tools helped along the way but were not the primary focus. Keep your eye on the broad purpose, and don't settle for just another tool. You can set the objective, then utilize any tool in the IE toolbelt to reach the goal.

IE help is readily available
If your organization needs more IE firepower, you can acquire help from many places; consultants such as Jackson Productivity Research, college and university organizations and faculty, placement specialists, contractor services.

There are many consultants with a proprietary program to sell. My opinion about productivity is that one size does not fit all, hich is why my consultancy utilizes more than one tool. As the saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer then all problems look like a nail.

There seems to be a scarcity of useful and specific do-it-yourself articles available, even on the internet, probably because individual circumstances vary so much. Most of the books on classic IE topics are pretty old, but the principles have not changed much over the years.

IE payback
My good clients and bosses over the years have grown to expect a return of some 10 times the cost of industrial engineering. That's valuable in any economy, especially the one we are in now. However let me point out that return requires that IE has a free hand to select the projects with the most potential.

Thanks for the time, I hope the article was useful. JPR welcomes the opportunity to discuss your particular application.

Jack Greene, Jackson Productivity Research Inc.

What Next?

You have searched the web to understand how the principals of industrial engineering can benefit your organization, but maybe don't know quite how to proceed. I'll be glad to share what I know about the subject, and will welcome your call or email. Tell me as much as you'd like, confidentially, about your organization's situation and objectives, timetable and budget, and I'll describe some practical actions to accomplish your scope. You will have a better understanding of the options.


There's no cost or obligation to contact Jack Greene at 843-422-1298