An industrial engineer writing on a clipboard inside of a warehouse

An industrial engineer could...

Reconfigure airport check-in services to shorten lines and make passengers happier. Stanchions separate lines of people at an airport Design a more-efficient car assembly line to save on manufacturing costs. Robotic arms weld car chassis on an assembly line
Streamline an operating room so that it is safer, faster, and easier to use. Aerial photo of surgeons performing an operation Determine the fastest way to transport perishable goods cross-country, even during bad weather. The cab of a large truck covered in snow
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Key Facts & Information

Overview You've probably heard the expression "build a better mousetrap." Industrial engineers are the people who figure out how to do things better. They find ways that are smarter, faster, safer, and easier, so that companies become more efficient, productive, and profitable, and employees have work environments that are safer and more rewarding. You might think from their name that industrial engineers just work for big manufacturing companies, but they are employed in a wide range of industries, including the service, entertainment, shipping, and healthcare fields. For example, nobody likes to wait in a long line to get on a roller coaster ride, or to get admitted to the hospital. Industrial engineers tell companies how to shorten these processes. They try to make life and products better. Finding ways to do more with less is their motto.
Key Requirements Wide interests in both engineering and business, excellent math, logic, and communication skills, preference for the big picture, but still able to analyze small details
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, statistics, business.
Median Salary
Industrial Engineer
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview Read these interviews to see what industrial engineers say about their work—why they decided to become industrial engineers, what they like most about their work, what has been their most interesting project, and what they think is their most important contribution.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Education and Training

To become an industrial engineer, you must have a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering. Recommended coursework includes statistics, computer skills, ergonomics, management science, quality control, sociology, psychology, organizational behavior, economics, finance, labor relations, and mathematics. Those who plan to specialize in manufacturing areas find it useful to study shipping, billing, and automated systems, along with computer science.

Graduate programs in industrial engineering are primarily for those who wish to enter academia. Employers consider production or manufacturing experience extremely useful; they also favorably view administrative experience in large-paperwork industries (such as insurance, health care, or brokerage). Many find joining a professional organization supportive of their careers (some join while still in school) because it helps them to keep them abreast of important topics and trends in industrial engineering.

Other Qualifications

Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

Watch this video to see how an industrial engineer, Ashley Benedict, works together with a systems engineer to make hospitals more efficient by improving their workflow.

Industrial engineers determine the most effective ways to use the basic factors of production—people, machines, materials, information, and energy—to make a product or provide a service. They are primarily concerned with increasing productivity through the management of people, methods of business organization, and technology. To maximize efficiency, industrial engineers carefully study the product requirements and design manufacturing and information systems to meet those requirements with the help of mathematical methods and models. They develop management control systems to aid in financial planning and cost analysis, and design production planning and control systems to coordinate activities and ensure product quality. They also design or improve systems for the physical distribution of goods and services and determine the most efficient plant locations. Industrial engineers develop wage and salary administration systems and job evaluation programs. Many industrial engineers move into management positions because the work is closely related to the work of managers.

Work Environment

Most industrial engineers work in industry for manufacturing or service companies. But since their skills are so versatile, industrial engineers can work in virtually any kind of industry or organization, including government agencies and consulting firms. They typically work standard 40-hour work weeks.

On the Job

  • Analyze statistical data and product specifications to determine standards and establish quality and reliability objectives of finished product.
  • Develop manufacturing methods, labor utilization standards, and cost analysis systems to promote efficient staff and facility utilization.
  • Recommend methods for improving utilization of personnel, material, and utilities.
  • Plan and establish sequence of operations to fabricate and assemble parts or products and to promote efficient utilization.
  • Apply statistical methods and perform mathematical calculations to determine manufacturing processes, staff requirements, and production standards.
  • Coordinate quality control objectives and activities to resolve production problems, maximize product reliability, and minimize cost.
  • Confer with vendors, staff, and management personnel regarding purchases, procedures, product specifications, manufacturing capabilities, and project status.
  • Draft and design layout of equipment, materials, and workspace to illustrate maximum efficiency using drafting tools and computer.
  • Review production schedules, engineering specifications, orders, and related information to obtain knowledge of manufacturing methods, procedures, and activities.
  • Communicate with management and user personnel to develop production and design standards.
  • Estimate production cost and effect of product design changes for management review, action, and control.
  • Formulate sampling procedures and designs and develop forms and instructions for recording, evaluating, and reporting quality and reliability data.
  • Record or oversee recording of information to ensure currency of engineering drawings and documentation of production problems.
  • Study operations sequence, material flow, functional statements, organization charts, and project information to determine worker functions and responsibilities.
  • Direct workers engaged in product measurement, inspection, and testing activities to ensure quality control and reliability.
  • Implement methods and procedures for disposition of discrepant material and defective or damaged parts, and assess cost and responsibility.
  • Evaluate precision and accuracy of production and testing equipment and engineering drawings to formulate corrective action plan.
  • Complete production reports, purchase orders, and material, tool, and equipment lists.
  • Schedule deliveries based on production forecasts, material substitutions, storage and handling facilities, and maintenance requirements.
  • Regulate and alter workflow schedules according to established manufacturing sequences and lead times to expedite production operations.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Industrial Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Do you think you could build a car powered by nothing but air? A balloon-powered car is pushed forward by air escaping from a balloon, and it is fun and easy to build with materials you already have around your house. Can you imagine how you would want your own balloon-powered car to look? Can you design a car that will travel as far as possible? You can even measure your car's speed using your smartphone and Google's Science Journal app. Get ready to grab some simple supplies to bring your… Read more
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Put your engineering skills to the test to see if you can build a machine—powered by nothing but gravity—that will automatically sort out two different sizes of plastic spheres. That might seem like a strange task, but have you ever used a coin sorter to separate pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters? How about using a sifter in the kitchen to separate fine grains of flour or sugar from bigger lumps? Machines that can automatically sort objects or particles of different sizes are… Read more
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Do you like winter sports like sledding or skiing? Check out this winter-themed engineering project to build your own miniature "ski lift." Use it to transport small objects from one place to another, just like a real ski lift transports skiers from the bottom of a mountain to the top. Read more
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If you like solving challenging puzzles, this could be a good project for you. In this project you will research different methods for solving a Rubik's cube, and then do an experiment to compare them to each other. Which method works fastest? Read more
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Juice boxes are so convenient—just poke the straw in and sip away! But have you ever noticed that some juice boxes don't seem to have much juice, even when they have a lot of packaging? It might surprise you how much thought goes into the design and manufacturing of a juice box. Each manufacturer has carefully calculated how big each side should be to hold a certain amount of juice inside. In this science project, you will find out how different brands of juice measure up. Read more
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If you're the kind of person who has taken apart your Rubik's cube in order to grease the inside parts so it will move more smoothly, this could be a great project for you. We'll show you three sets of move sequences that accomplish specific rearrangements of the cube. Can you devise a way to solve the cube using only these three move sequences? Read more
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Our forests are a very important natural resource that need to be managed wisely. We use wood products for many different purposes: building materials, paper, cardboard, furniture, fuel, etc. How can we use wood products in a sustainable manner? You can do experiments that examine the growth time of different tree species to see which are good candidates for tree farming. Which types of lumber are most sustainable? You can also compare the effects of clear cutting vs. thinning a forested… Read more
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Did you know that the United States jump rope record (as of 2017) for the greatest number of jumps in a minute is 372? That's more than six jumps a second! How close do you think you can get to that number? If you are going to try to break the record, it might be important to figure out how jump rope length affects your success. Try your hand at this skipping science fair project and jump-start your chances for a jump rope record. If you have a smartphone available, you can use it to measure… Read more
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Here's a puzzle you may have heard before which you can build as a simple electric circuit. First, the puzzle: a farmer is traveling to market with his cat, a chicken and some corn. He has to cross a river, and the only way to cross is in a small boat which can hold the farmer and just one of the three items he has with him. The problem is, he has to be very careful about what he chooses to leave behind at any time. If the cat and chicken are left alone, the cat will eat the chicken. If… Read more
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Have you ever set up a line of dominoes and watched them fall? If you wanted to make your line of dominoes fall faster, do you think you should set the dominoes up with more or less space between them? Set your dominoes up in a straight line, using a ruler to keep the spacing between them constant. Try different spacings at 0.5cm increments. Conduct multiple trials at each spacing, and time how long it takes for a fixed total length of dominoes to fall (e.g., a 1.5 or 3.0 meter length of… Read more
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Big, puffy, cotton-like clouds, and the bubbles in a pot of boiling water may not seem like they have much in common, but they do—both are formed by a heat-transfer process called convection. Warmed gases and liquids rise, while cooler ones fall, creating currents and mixing things up. Whether making processed foods in a factory or making plastic or metal parts, knowing how to mix up a big tank of hot and cold liquids or gases quickly is important. Engineers must rely on experimentation… Read more
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When you think of successful inventions from the 1900's that have dramatically changed how people live, what comes to mind? The car? Radio? TV? The computer? What about the microwave oven? You might not remember a time when microwave ovens were not a standard part of most kitchens, but your parents or grandparents probably do. They can remember when heating leftovers took a good 30 minutes in a traditional oven. Or thawing a food from the freezer meant leaving it in the refrigerator overnight.… Read more
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When you open up your presents on your birthday, you probably don't spend a lot of time admiring the wrapping—you'd much rather see what's inside. It can be the same way with the packaging that products come in, but packaging is important for protecting the things we buy as they make their way from the factory to our homes. How much shock force is produced when a box gets dropped accidentally? What kinds of materials work best to protect products from damage? This project can show you… Read more
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Visit your local landfill to collect dumping statistics by watching the types of trash people bring to the dump. Identify problem areas and types of waste that are commonly brought to the dump. Propose new uses for common landfill problems like tires, construction materials, plastics, appliances, and computer parts. Measure packaging materials of some common products. Invent ways to reduce the amount of packaging and increase the use of recyclable materials like popcorn or corn-based packing… Read more
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How many times have you heard from your parents: "Clean up your room!" or "Don't forget to unload the dishwasher!" By applying principles of industrial engineering and time management, you can speed through your chores and have more time to kick back and relax. Read more

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Additional Information


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • AMD
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Seagate
Free science fair projects.