What are Industrial Engineers? 10 Fascinating Facts to Know About this Career

Industrial engineers come up with efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Industrial Engineer Career Overview

Work Environment

Depending on their tasks, industrial engineers work either in offices or in the settings they are trying to improve. For example, when observing problems, they may watch workers assembling parts in a factory.

When solving problems, they may be in an office at a computer, looking at data that they or others have collected.

How to Become an Industrial Engineer

Industrial engineers need a bachelor’s degree, typically in industrial engineering.

However, many industrial engineers have degrees in:

  • mechanical engineering
  • electrical engineering
  • manufacturing engineering
  • industrial engineering technology
  • general engineering

Pay

The median annual wage for industrial engineers was $88,020 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of industrial engineers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Firms in a variety of industries will continue to seek new ways to contain costs and improve efficiency.

Industrial engineers find ways to eliminate wastefulness in production processes. They devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Duties

Industrial engineers typically do the following:

  • Review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand methods that are applied and activities that take place in manufacturing and services
  • Figure out how to manufacture parts or products, or deliver services, with maximum efficiency
  • Develop management control systems to make financial planning and cost analysis more efficient
  • Enact quality control procedures to resolve production problems or minimize costs
  • Design control systems to coordinate activities and production planning in order to ensure that products meet quality standards
  • Confer with clients about product specifications, vendors about purchases, management personnel about manufacturing capabilities, and staff about the status of projects

Industrial engineers apply their skills to many different situations, from manufacturing to healthcare systems to business administration. For example, they design systems for

  • moving heavy parts within manufacturing plants
  • delivering goods from a company to customers, including finding the most profitable places to locate manufacturing or processing plants
  • evaluating job performance
  • paying workers.

Some industrial engineers, called manufacturing engineers, focus entirely on the automated aspects of manufacturing processes. They design manufacturing systems to optimize the use of computer networks, robots, and materials.

Industrial engineers focus on how to get the work done most efficiently, balancing many factors, such as time, number of workers needed, available technology, actions workers need to take, achieving the end product with no errors, workers’ safety, environmental concerns, and cost.

The versatility of industrial engineers allows them to engage in activities that are useful to a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofits. For example, industrial engineers engage in supply chain management to help businesses minimize inventory costs, conduct quality assurance activities to help businesses keep their customer bases satisfied, and work in the growing field of project management as industries across the economy seek to control costs and maximize efficiencies.

Industrial engineers held about 295,800 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of industrial engineers were as follows:

Transportation equipment manufacturing18%
Computer and electronic product manufacturing13
Professional, scientific, and technical services12
Machinery manufacturing8
Fabricated metal product manufacturing6

Depending on their tasks, industrial engineers work either in offices or in the settings they are trying to improve. For example, when observing problems, they may watch workers assembling parts in a factory. When solving problems, industrial engineers may be in an office at a computer where they analyze data that they or others have collected.

Industrial engineers must work well on teams because they need help from others to collect information about problems and to implement solutions.

Industrial engineers may need to travel to observe processes and make assessments in various work settings.

Work Schedules

Most industrial engineers work full time. Depending upon the projects in which these engineers are engaged, and the industries in which the projects are taking place, hours may vary.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of industrial engineers.

Industrial engineers must have a bachelor’s degree. Employers also value experience, so cooperative education engineering programs at universities are also beneficial.

Education

Industrial engineers need a bachelor’s degree, typically in industrial engineering. However, many industrial engineers have degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, manufacturing engineering, industrial engineering technology, or general engineering. Students interested in studying industrial engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; computer science; and sciences such as chemistry and physics.

Bachelor’s degree programs include lectures in classrooms and practice in laboratories. Courses include statistics, production systems planning, and manufacturing systems design, among others. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative education programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

Several colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs in industrial engineering that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion, and several more offer similar programs in mechanical engineering. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as a professor at a college or university or to engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative education plans combine classroom study with practical work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Programs in industrial engineering are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities

Creativity. Industrial engineers use creativity and ingenuity to design new production processes in many kinds of settings in order to reduce the use of material resources, time, or labor while accomplishing the same goal.

Critical-thinking skills. Industrial engineers create new systems to solve problems related to waste and inefficiency. Solving these problems requires logic and reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to the problems.

Listening skills. These engineers often operate in teams, but they also must solicit feedback from customers, vendors, and production staff. They must listen to customers and clients in order to fully grasp ideas and problems.

Math skills. Industrial engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. In designing facilities for manufacturing and processes for providing services, these engineers deal with several issues at once, from workers’ safety to quality assurance.

Speaking skills. Industrial engineers sometimes have to explain their instructions to production staff or technicians before they can make written instructions available. Being able to explain concepts clearly and quickly is crucial to preventing costly mistakes and loss of time.

Writing skills. Industrial engineers must prepare documentation for other engineers or scientists, or for future reference. The documentation must be coherent and explain their thinking clearly so that the others can understand the information.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an industrial engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A  passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers offers certification, which requires a minimum of 8 years of a combination of education related to manufacturing and at least 4 years of work experience.

Other Experience

During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school. 

Advancement

Industrial engineers who are just starting out usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers also may receive formal training in classes or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, industrial engineers may advance to become technical specialists, such as quality engineers or facility planners. In that role, they supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Earning a master’s degree facilitates such specialization and thus advancement.

Many industrial engineers move into management positions because the work they do is closely related to the work of managers. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

 OccupationJob DutiesEntry-Level EducationMedian Annual Pay, May 2019
 

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor’s degree$144,830
 

Cost Estimators

Cost estimators collect and analyze data in order to estimate the time, money, materials, and labor required to make a product or provide a service.

Bachelor’s degree$65,250
 

Health and Safety Engineers

Health and safety engineers combine knowledge of engineering and of health and safety to develop procedures and design systems to protect people from illness and injury and property from damage.

Bachelor’s degree$91,410
 

Industrial Engineering Technicians

Industrial engineering technicians assist industrial engineers in creating systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service.

Associate’s degree$56,550
 

Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants.

Bachelor’s degree$105,480
 

Logisticians

Logisticians analyze and coordinate an organization’s supply chain.

Bachelor’s degree$74,750
 

Management Analysts

Management analysts recommend ways to improve an organization’s efficiency.

Bachelor’s degree$85,260
 

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians collect data on and analyze many types of work environments and work procedures.

See How to Become One$70,480
 

Quality Control Inspectors

Quality control inspectors examine products and materials for defects or deviations from specifications.

High school diploma or equivalent$39,140

For more information about industrial engineers, visit

Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers

For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

Technology Student Association

For more information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering Education Service Center

For more information about licensure as an industrial engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For more information about certification as a manufacturing engineer, visit

Society of Manufacturing Engineers

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

O*NET

Human Factors Engineers and Ergonomists

Industrial Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Industrial Engineers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/industrial-engineers.htm (visited ).