So what does an Industrial Engineer really do?
The number of Industrial Engineers graduating every year in Pakistan is significantly higher than the average runs that our cricket team accumulates these days. Yet, ironically, like our batting line itself in the modern version of the gentlemen’s game, we seem to have not yet found our true place in the manufacturing sector of a country hopelessly struggling to keep pace with international competitors.
We are everywhere, yet nowhere. The sectors of Textiles, Automotives, Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, Power, Education, Designing, Consultancies, and even Teaching are all providing us the opportunity to showcase or ubiquitous influence. And what’s even more astonishing is our diversity within these sectors–scope of work ranging from production, planning, quality, systems, supply chain, warehousing, health & safety, research, marketing, distribution, product development, new product development, business intelligence, operational excellence, sales and every other new division thought up by a management’s Einstein. But, the hot potato is the definitive question, where do we really belong and where can we best flourish?
Graduating with flying colors, my batch-mates took to explore their fields of work. Not even a year passed as we spread like wildfire throughout the manufacturing sector and felt at the top of the world. Desperate to throw out and implement every tool and technique we were enlightened with during our studies, diligent schemers trying to control our little worlds, convinced of our significance in the existing industrial sector and most of us carrying the brand value of one Pakistan’s most renowned University on our shoulders, the taste of success was only a matter of time.
But something went wrong–things didn’t feel right. Hidden behind the smiles and pride, the monthly bar-b-q get-togethers loomed with concerned and confused questions, is this really what Industrial Engineers do? Do our bosses understand the scope of our work?
From the definition quoted by one of our most recognized Professors, an Industrial Engineer designs and optimizes systems. But, before that, nothing was more significant than the good old-school struggle of the fresh graduate–to work your socks off at the grass root levels and establish a strong base. This was imperative considering the fact we were distributed throughout different sectors. The tools & dies manufacturing sector is not exactly a giant in this region. Flexibility was key to finding a stairway that goes up the climb of accomplishment in different sectors.
But we felt directionless, our progress haphazard, and felt the lack of implementations and initiatives that were true to our academia.We faced severe misconceptions about our field and were limited to distinct roles across the country: the data analyst, the safety engineer, the production planner, the documentation guy; the sales support team member, the production in-charge, the parts designer; and most annoyingly the layout drawer.
The perception that we couldn’t go beyond that was fuming to say the least. It was not until later that some industries unveiled Operational Excellence or Continuous Improvement Departments where we were offered the platform to exhibit our abilities and flourish. And like the countless social, religious and political norms of conflict and misconception in our country, our best way to establish ourselves was not to force the initiative; but to stand up and define our field and explain our scope, capacity and the wide range of possibilities we have to offer in making noteworthy contributions to our industries.
Years have passed and the argument only grows further, with every individual firmly defending his sector as our ultimate bumper prize; stand-out areas being Supply Chain, Designing, Quality, Inventory, and Planning. Various Industrial Engineering Societies, Consultancies and Advisory Groups are growing in number and demand as industries continue to rely on External Support for executions they should be coping themselves with; which is my reason to believe that this is our chance to prove ourselves.
Why rely on External parties when we can clean up the mess ourselves? Our curriculum covers courses that polish such expertise that make us the perfect candidate for the jobs. It would save money, it would save time, it would promote growth, and it would satisfy a breed of Engineers desperate to get the front seat. *According to PEC, there are a total of 170,992 Registered Engineers in Pakistan out of which only 2,231 are Industrial Engineers; a measly 1.3%! We are in such small numbers and yet have such high concerns of landing a job; that’s because we have been searching in the wrong place. *Industrial and Manufacturing sector of the 6th largest country in the world contributes 24% and 18.5% respectively to the GDP.
Considering the fact that a high majority of capacity is not fully utilized and wastes and quality levels are rather compromising, if the limited Industrial Engineers divert their focus to this area it would be a win-win situation for all. Having been exposed to the textile sector for nearly three years, I have felt the resistance to change. The culture, the traditions and the old-school techniques are costing us immensely in the form of wasted utilities, opportunities, developments, material and ideas. But my experience in systems, quality, a local six sigma certification, and an International Lead Auditor certification gave me immense opportunities to analyze the situation throughout the country.
My priority has always been to not only judge the performance of my projects on the documented KPIs, but also the intangible contributions I can make to bring forth a breath of change in the Quality approach and problem solving techniques. Pakistan is the ultimate definition of the 8th and 9th wastes of Lean manufacturing – Untapped and Misused resources. The wayward systems, requirements of training and awareness programs, the installment and sustainability of a culture of traceability, transparency, standardization and continuous improvement are the ideal platform for us.
There’s more; *Pakistan ranks 56th out of 103 countries in the list of ISO Certified countries, hence showing immense opportunities for Total Quality Management Systems Development. Some argue it as being an old philosophy which was implemented and even replaced by Modern quality terminologies in the west, but considering the state of our Industries with belied Quality Systems, this is indeed the logical initiative. Innovations of Six Sigma are more often than not used not for the target of a 99.9997% success rate, but merely to get close to it. The greatest prospect is the newly introduced philosophy of Lean Six Sigma, which would be a fantastic methodology to work on the existing Industrial waste of the country; *out of which only 20-30% is recycled. Food waste of 17%, Soil 9%, Textile Waste nearing 7%, Plastics / Glass / Papers 6% and Rubber 5 % are all screaming for us to take advantage.
The few Projects I have been fortunate enough to participate in gave me a glimpse of how easily we can work on our deficiencies by targeting the Pareto function; 80% problems originating from 20% reasons. Even the very basic understanding and applications of Lean Manufacturing tools can produce monumental savings throughout various supply chains. This is where we need to grow, this is where we need to explain our role, and in less than a decade these 1.3% engineers could be carrying multiple cell phones for more than just mugging precautions; endless interview calls and offers!
But there’s more to our goal beyond these numbers. The need of the hour is to cultivate a culture that strives to catch up with global industrialization. We can take up the responsibility of alleviating the existing flaws and gaps not only in the form of material and capital, but also in the shape of a revolution in mindset of our Industrial Sector. Change is never easy and this country has a habit of learning that the hard way, and we must step up and challenge the status quo of long lasting traditions and work ethics that repel the modern area of Industrial revolution.
Even the theory of Project Management suggests the tools and techniques are nothing more than 33% of the Management process, and the bulk 66% is reliant on Organizational Structures and Organizational Behavior; which is our biggest drawback. Countering that would be a giant leap towards Stability and Reliability in our Industries, and a platform for International Recognition and bringing back Multinational manufacturers in the region.
Supply Chain is globally acclaimed and is a fantastic career path, but the journey towards excellence can never precede Stability. It is undoubtedly the next step for future Industrial Engineering Professionals, but the first step to direct and align the existing disoriented operations is up to us. And the facts are there to give us the vision of our initiation; Implementation of Sustainable and Transparent Quality Management Systems and Lean Manufacturing Systems to eradicate any and every special cause highlighted in the Control Chart of our Industrial and Manufacturing Sectors performance, with the greatest emphasis not on material, machines and methods but on the grooming, training, calibration, cultural upgrade and development of the most important “M” of the lot; Man. And how do we do it? We go by the book and do what we do best, “An Industrial Engineer designs and optimizes systems.”