Evolution of Industrial Engineering

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    Evolution of Industrial Engineering

    In any productive environment, whether it is an industrial plant, an institution such as a hospital, restaurant, office, etc. there is a need to improve the quality of work. This means that a given task should be carried out efficiently and accurately in terms of time and effort spent.

    During the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th century, many small ownership based businesses grew into larger enterprises in which a number of manual tasks were performed by mechanical and steam operated machines. At that time there weren’t adequate tools or working conditions and there was considerable exploitation of labor. As a result, there were wide variations in output from different workers and different factories making the same product.
    Frederick Taylor, a mechanical engineer was who observed that better methods could be established even for a simple task as handling iron ore and coal for a blast in a steel plant. He pursued the task of establishing a norm for the weight and size of the shovel for scooping and transferring material. He observed and proved that instead of using the largest shovel to move the maximum material in a day, it was better to design a shovel which could be comfortably used by the workers on a repetitive basis without tiring or injuring them at the end of the day. When his plan was implemented, he reduced the manpower by over 25%. Taylor was also considered to be the father of scientific management because he was a pioneer in improving methods and establishing the incentive system for workers with the benefit of higher productivity to the owners and higher wages for the workers.


    Frank Gilbreth, started working on motion studies soon after Taylor began his work. Gilbreth was a construction contractor, who noticed that the industry lacked standardization of methods. Gilbreth and his wife Lilian, devoted their lives to motion studies.

    Gilbreth’s famous discovery took place when he was doing apprenticeship as a bricklayer; he observed that there were no two men, who could lay bricks the same way. Consequently, their quality and quantity of output varied. He improved the method of laying bricks by making a number of changes. He provided a platform whose height could be adjusted, so that bricklayer is always at the same height in relationship to the bricks laid. A shelf for bricks and mortar was built to save workers from bending down to pick up their material. He had bricks pre-stacked with the best side facing in the direction of the workers to avoid workers from having to turn the brick several times to find its best side just before laying.

    These changes significantly reduced the number of motions in laying bricks, and resulted in higher production with lower fatigue for the workers. Lilian Gilbreth, Frank’s wife, joined him in his pursuit for promoting scientific management by conducting research and application work in studies of motion and methods.

    Gilbreth’s work continued in motions using motion pictures for studying tasks and workers. He developed micro motion study, a breakdown of work into fundamental elements called “therbligs” (baed on Gilbreth spelled backwards).
    Taylor’s concept of work element was broad, and based on time study requirements like “get tool”. Whereas Gilbreth’s work was based on breaking down the elements further into basic individual therbligs, such as “reach for tool and pick up tool” instead of “get tool”.

    There were many followers of Taylor and Gilbreth in the 1900s. They believed that Taylor’s work emphasized motion measurement whereas Gilbreth emphasized motion analysis. With time, it became clear that both approaches were necessary and were essentially interdependent. Ultimately what is important is the best of both of these efforts, namely, the right motions with the minimum of time. Thus evolved a term “Methods engineering” which is an important function of industrial engineering.

    The concepts of time and motion studies developed by Taylor and Gilbreth are still the basis for industrial engineering. Even today, over fifty percent of industrial engineering activities are related to this concept.

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