Adonis Diaries

Introspection: What Design? (#55)

Posted on: March 1, 2009

Designing what? The Human Factors Concept

 

The bottom line in industrial engineering is to design a system that would optimize production, inventory, distribution, material handling by maximizing profit or minimizing cost or finding a trade-off that would satisfy the marketing department, the shareholders, the after sale, the union, the consumer product, and the health and safety agencies and so forth.

Now we can recognize that optimizing a system involves inter-relationship among various interested groups of people.  The inter-relationship with consumers, operators, employees, workers, management, and shareholders requires a good understanding of the research done in psychology, sociology, marketing, econometrics and other social studies. This fact is anathema to mathematical solutions that do not consider constraints on human needs, demands, safety and health regulations and specifications, and variability in capabilities and limitations and ethnic idiosyncrasies.

Can industrial engineering discipline be of any aid to small and family based businesses and industries with limited financial resources and marketing scope?  It should be of aid if the boss is an industrial engineer but my opinion is that this discipline is geared toward large industrial complex that hires many employees and workers even if many sections are automated.  Designing an optimum system of production without serious awareness of the research done in the consequences of shift work, pay rate, sleep deprivation, and the political infighting among departments, management, syndicates and employees is tantamount to failure.  We can understand that there are many strong and interesting interactions among industrial, social, psychological and business administration fields.

Whether we like it or not human factors engineering that studies the capabilities and variability of the human element, his health and safety and risk taking tendencies or avoidance should be an intrinsic part of designing work production.  The reality is that companies are wary of hiring generalists such as industrial or human factors engineers for the benefit of specific specialties that are much more in demand because they are better known, even if a global view and comprehension of a system can, in the medium and long terms, deliver much better performance in production, minimizing lost work days, turnover, human aches and pains, emotionally and physically. 

Private companies conjecture that they cannot afford human factors engineers whose jobs are designing interfaces for end users to interact efficiently with complex systems; this is partly true because experimenting with human subjects is time consuming and very costly when dealing with the innumerable variables involved in studying the behavior of workers, employees, engineers and consumers.

I like the current tendency to label industrial engineering as engineering management because the scope matches the management requirement and responsibilities and avoid the connotation with mechanical design and fabrication.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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