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What is an industrial engineering degree?

An industrial engineering degree trains you to help people, machines, information, and resources work together.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor
Software engineer explaining to controlling robotic welding process to welder in factory. -
Nitat Termmee/Moment/Getty Images

What is an industrial engineering degree? It's a training ground to make the world around us function better.

The role of an industrial engineer varies by industry. Most identify the best ways to integrate people, equipment, and information in the workplace. They also design new plans, routes, and frameworks to save money, maximize energy use, and improve overall quality.

Read on to learn more about industrial engineering, the degrees you can earn, and the classes you can take.

What is industrial engineering?

Industrial engineering involves finding ways to make systems and processes work more efficiently and effectively. Industrial engineers work across industries to analyze, design, and improve procedures and networks.

Industrial engineers apply engineering principles to factory manufacturing to ensure quality and speed up production. They identify protocols for hospitals to improve patient care. Industrial engineers find ways to shorten lines at your local government office and your favorite amusement parks. 

Across the board, industrial engineers find ways to make people, machines, and organizations work better. 

What do you learn in an industrial engineering degree program?

An industrial engineering degree provides you with key technical, practical, and theoretical skills. 

Classes in probability and statistics, discrete and linear mathematics, systems engineering, and operations research give you a comprehensive look at the discipline. 

Upper-level students and those earning advanced degrees can choose classes in a subset of the discipline.

Here are some of the specific skills you'll gain:

  • Data analysis
  • Modeling and simulation
  • Facility layout
  • Material handling
  • Manufacturing scheduling and inventory
  • System safety
  • Operations research
  • Human-computer interaction
  • Organizational structure

Industrial engineering course examples

Design and analysis methods for industrial engineering

This course focuses on how to plan, prioritize, manage, and measure work. It focuses on lean system design. You learn how to continuously improve existing systems and develop new ones with an eye toward workplace organization and inventory, setup, and waste reduction.

Modeling and simulation

This class teaches you when and how to use simulations and models effectively. Models include formal and informal, physical and abstract, descriptive, and stochastic. You also learn how to use computer software to create simulations using real-world data. 

Human factors in design

Coursework examines the abilities and limitations of humans in industrial engineering. You'll consider functional, psychological, physiological, and environmental factors. You'll explore how to work with and around the role of humans in design analysis, application, and management.

Industrial applications for statistics and probability

This class explores statistics concepts and uses alongside topics like estimation, hypothesis testing, and regression. You'll learn how to conduct and summarize quantitative research using data collection, experimentation, and reporting.

How hard is an industrial engineering degree?

Industrial engineering is an interdisciplinary field, so an industrial engineering degree is challenging. Mathematics, engineering, and business coursework accompany lab classes and practical requirements.

This degree's diversity is also part of what makes it exciting and fun. Projects teach you to apply what you learn to scenarios and situations across industries and communities.

An industrial engineering degree teaches you how to take on and solve real-world challenges.

Industrial engineering programs also build analytical, problem solving, and creative thinking skills. Graduating prepares you for a professional role in the field. 

What kinds of industrial engineering degrees are there?

You can earn an undergraduate or a graduate degree in industrial engineering. 

The right type of industrial engineering degree for you depends on your educational background, level of experience, and professional goals. 

Associate degree in industrial engineering

These degrees typically take two years to complete. Most entry-level positions in industrial engineering require at least a bachelor's degree.

A degree in industrial engineering technology emphasizes practical applications of industrial engineering and prepares you for the workforce. You can work as a manufacturing supervisor, engineering associate, or process technician with an associate degree. 

Other associate degrees in industrial engineering prepare you to enter a bachelor's program. 

Common coursework for industrial engineering associate degrees includes:

  • Manufacturing processes
  • Engineering drawings
  • Applied statistical analysis

Bachelor's degree in industrial engineering

A bachelor's degree in industrial engineering typically includes four years of coursework. General education classes accompany foundational engineering classes. You study engineering design, production process design, and applied statistical methods.

Advanced courses include:

  • Engineering cost analysis and control
  • Stochastic models in operations research
  • Industrial modeling

Industrial engineering programs culminate in a capstone requirement. You may complete a final project independently or with classmates during which you apply degree knowledge to a real-world industrial engineering challenge.

With a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, you can work as a manufacturing engineer, a process engineer, or a process improvement specialist. 

Graduate certificate in industrial engineering

A graduate certificate in industrial engineering isn't a degree. Instead, it complements a degree in engineering or a related field.

It can also help you branch out from another field into industrial engineering.

 An industrial engineering certificate may help you land a manufacturing production supervisor, industrial designer, or supply chain analyst position.

Graduate certificates generally last less than one year. Common classes include:

  • Optimization models and methods
  • Applied systems engineering
  • Stochastic modeling

Master's degree in industrial engineering

With a master's degree in industrial engineering, you may advance to managerial and leadership roles in the field. Two years of coursework and practical requirements teach the knowledge and skills to work as a senior industrial engineer, a quality control specialist, or an industrial engineering researcher.

Core classes for an industrial engineering master's degree include:

  • Production and inventory control
  • Computer integrated manufacturing
  • Enterprise business intelligence

You may specialize in an area such as: 

  • Healthcare engineering
  • Regulated industries
  • Financial engineering
  • Human factors and ergonomics
  • Production and manufacturing systems
  • Operations research and decision sciences

Doctoral degree in industrial engineering

A doctorate in industrial engineering emphasizes research. It prepares you for a career in academia or the industry. 

This degree takes three to five years to complete. During the first part of the degree, you complete coursework in anticipation of comprehensive exams.

Common courses include:

  • Research methods
  • Advanced engineering statistics
  • Optimization methods

You'll also identify an area of interest within industrial engineering and prepare a dissertation proposal based on a question or challenge in that area. 

Once approved, you work closely with an advisor as you carry out research and produce a final dissertation. You then defend it to a committee of faculty members.

Who accredits industrial engineering programs?

Alongside schoolwide accreditation held by a college or university, individual programs may hold additional accreditation. For industrial engineering, the accrediting body is the EBET's engineering accreditation commission.

Earning a degree from an ABET-accredited institution ensures that you receive a quality education respected by colleagues and employers. An ABET-accredited degree may also be a prerequisite for industry certifications.

In conclusion

With information about what an industrial engineering degree is and how it can benefit you, you're well equipped to take the next step.

Want to explore other engineering degrees? 

Among the most popular options include a civil engineering degree, an electrical engineering degree, and a mechanical engineering degree. More interested in computers? A software engineering degree or computer engineering degree may be right for you. 

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