Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 5

The IE Approach

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5.7 Fads

Since the mid 1980s, the phrase Total Quality Management (TQM) has been used to describe the application of Deming's ideas for improving quality, especially including managerial commitment to quality, empowered teams, and statistical methods. The phrase Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) describes the same concepts but the term allows the application of the ideas where the word "management" might meet resistance, for example, in education. The term CQI is also widely used in healthcare.

A flexible manufacturing system can easily change from making one mix of products to a different mix of products. An FMS allows quick response to changes in the market. Such systems usually involve small batch sizes, extensive use of automation, a centralized computer controlling all work flow, and ease in reconfiguring and adding machines. The concept was popular from the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s.

Agile manufacturing stresses that manufacturers cannot control the market place and must be able to move quickly to respond to changes. Companies must be able to develop and produce products quickly and each product may have a very short life cycle. The concepts were first developed in the early 1990s at the Iacocca Institute and Lehigh University. Key concepts include rapid prototyping, a loose conglomeration of many small companies that reform into new alliances for new products, and the use of information technology to share information.

The 1993 book Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy describes methods for

“the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed.” (page 32).

The approach, called Business Process Improvement, involves the use of teams to improve processes, a focus on the customer’s perception of the process, empowering workers to make decisions that keep customers happy, and placing the steps in a process in a natural order.

The 1997 report Next Generation Manufacturing () described agility as comprising these qualities (Preiss, Patterson and Field, in Zandin, editor, page 1.136):

  1. Customer responsiveness
  2. Physical plant and equipment responsiveness
  3. Human resource responsiveness
  4. Global market responsiveness
  5. Teaming as a core competency
  6. Responsive practices and cultures

World Class Manufacturing involves being the best manufacturer of a product as compared to any organization anywhere in the world. This goal is achieved by using ideas from lean manfuacturing, Japanese methods for improving quality, and benchmarking to identify and adopt the best practices from other companies.

This description of management labels could go on for more pages, but you probably feel like you are reading the same ideas over and over again. This list illustrates the fact that industrial engineering ideas get regularly repackaged and resold under a new name. Certainly there are differences among these concepts. For example, some focus more on manfuacturing, while some are applicable to any organization producing goods or services. Some ideas have stronger roots in engineering and others have stronger roots in business. The emphasis in each new repackaging is slightly different and old concepts and methods are give new names, but you can often clearly see the good IE concepts under all the new packaging.

For example, can you guess which approach is being described by this quote?

“It is a business process that allows companies to drastically improve their bottom line by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while increasing customer satisfaction.” (Harry and Schroeder, page vii)

They are describing Six Sigma, although I am sure some practitioners of lean operations would claim this description as well. Indeed, one of the latest fads is Lean Six Sigma.

The list of concepts I have focused on in this chapter includes some new packaging that may not survive much longer (lean operations and Six Sigma), although I believe that systems thinking and Deming’s 14 points have already shown that they have lasting power. I also believe that sustainability will not fade.

Should we care that our ideas are repackaged (often by business school professors) and resold? We should, of course, recognize that the new packaging usually means a new book which usually contains a not thinly veiled advertisement for the consulting services of the authors.

“To date, every company that has implemented Six Sigma under our guidance has seen profit margins grow ... Companies ranging from AlliedSignal to DuPont Chemical have come to us because despite improvements they made in quality, their profit margins were stagnating, if not shrinking.” (Harry and Schroeder, page 1)

Books selling new fads almost always tell you that you need professional help to adopt the new approach .

We might be annoyed by the rhetoric and even more annoyed by the jobs that go to adherents of the latest fad rather than to industrial engineers, but I think we should, overall, be pleased by the new fads because every new fad brings more people in contact with the fundamental ideas of IE. Different organizations are still using language left over from different fads, and as an IE you may need to adapt how you sell IE within your organization depending on which fad they have embraced, but you can still sell and use the fundamental concepts and approaches of IE, whatever they are called.