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Andrew Schutte


The Cost of Bored Industrial Engineers

Outdated engineer-to-order ERP systems waste money, kill productivity

Published: Monday, March 1, 2021 - 12:02

Industrial engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes. Functions include quality control, human work factors, inventory control, logistics and material flow, cost analysis, and production coordination. These and other facets are usually part of the job description when being hired.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 10-percent growth rate among industrial engineers from 2019 to 2029, the attrition rate is anecdotally just as high; that equates to 100-percent attrition in a decade. Nowhere is the dissatisfaction and attrition of industrial engineers as great as in the engineer-to-order manufacturing space.

ETO engineers are bored and exhausted

Engineer to order (ETO) is a type of manufacturing that results in a unique product for a customer, as opposed to made to order, which is where a customer buys, essentially, an off-the-shelf product but with some options or modifications. ETO products are designed and engineered on the fly based on initial customer specifications. Engineers work with the customer throughout the process to meet those specific demands. This means that design, materials, and even design goals change continually.

With all the permutations inherent in the ETO design and manufacturing process, it may seem counterintuitive that so many industrial engineers are bored and exhausted. The fact that no two customers or products being manufactured are identical would seem to alleviate the possibility of boredom. In fact, the variety of engineering tasks would seem fun and interesting. These one-of-a-kind engineering and production elements would suggest an interesting and challenging engineering career.

The exhaustion in the ETO manufacturing process is not from the engineering and design creativity needed, but rather the antiquated tools, disconnected technologies, and need to constantly create production workarounds to offset and compensate for system inefficiencies. One of the biggest issues facing industrial engineers are enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that are ill-suited for ETO companies. Engineers are spending too much of their work time fixing and overcoming software limitations instead of focusing on engineering.

Rather than doing engineering work, designers and engineers find themselves pushing paper to communicate design changes throughout the purchasing and manufacturing process. For instance, even though they may be designing a product in a modern CAD package such as SOLIDWORKS, if there is a design change, such as a change in material, not only do engineers have to redesign the part to work with the new material (which is an engineer’s job), they also have to generate paperwork or files for purchasing, notifying them of a material change. They also must notify manufacturing or assembly of machining changes, and report inspection changes. All the paperwork takes time away from engineering.

This might look something like figure 1 below. Any time there is a change (and there are a lot of changes in ETO), the engineer must stop, export, and track any changes  using something like Excel. These changes then have to be imported or manually entered into an ERP system, opening up opportunities for error.

Figure 1: Traditional ERP using a combination of Excel and legacy ERP. © 2021 COUNTERPART ERP

ETO ERP eliminates waste and returns the industrial engineers’ passion

When industrial engineers have the proper ETO ERP technology that integrates seamlessly with SOLIDWORKS, they can focus on their intended jobs. They review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand methods that take place in manufacturing. They do the job where their skills are most valuable.

Industrial engineers want to figure out how to manufacture parts or products, or deliver services with maximum efficiency. They are happy to enact quality control procedures, resolve production problems, and minimize costs to ensure that products meet both customer expectations and the highest quality standards.

Not burdened with workarounds required due to poor integration between SOLIDWORKS and an antiquated ERP solution, industrial engineers can confer with clients about product specifications, vendors about purchases, management personnel about manufacturing capabilities, and staff about the status of projects.

Instead of manually communicating changes to the ERP system, it’s all done automatically, as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Integrated ERP ETO solution using Counterpart ERP ETO. © 2021 COUNTERPART ERP

Compensation and cost of replacing industrial engineers

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics salary data report the average industrial engineer compensation is between $88,000 and $130,000 annually. These engineers are often the highest paid in the company apart from upper-level management. When a third of their time is wasted doing clerical functions, it is antithetical to every lean manufacturing principle about eliminating waste. The highest number of mistakes also tend to be on the clerical side of the operation (the cause of boredom as well as frustrations caused by lack of proper tools).  

It is estimated that hiring and training a replacement industrial engineer would cost at least $40,000. Just keeping industrial engineers equipped with the proper ETO ERP solution will allow for happy and engaged workers. It is up to employers to identify disengaged workers and find ways to reinject purpose and interest into the job. Failure to do so puts manufacturers at the risk of high turnover rates. Boredom is a sign that engineering staff could already be searching for a new job or an employer who understands what is needed to maximize creativity and efficiency.

For more information on the issues of ERP and ETO organizations, watch the following interview with Andrew Schutte, general manager at Smooth Logics, developers of Counterpart ERP ETO.


About The Author

Andrew Schutte’s picture

Andrew Schutte

Andrew Schutte, General Manager at COUNTERPART ETO ERP, has been mechanically inclined from a young age. Growing up in his father’s machine shop he was provided a valuable hands-on education of machining, fabrication, and mechanical design throughout high school. He moved to designing automation assembly equipment and machine design supporting the automotive, office furniture, medical equipment, and consumer product industries. Follow on Twitter @CounterpartErp or call (616) 738-8922.