3D Printing Does Not Make Industrial Engineering Obsolete – Here’s Why

I had a discussion with someone in which I mentioned my transition from industrial engineering to IT. The person asked me if I thought 3D printing would make the entire profession of industrial engineering obsolete. My short answer was no. Here is a longer answer as to why 3D printing doesn’t render IE obsolete.

  • Not everything can be 3D printed, and there are still products that can be printed that will remain mass produced due to economies of scale. For most facilities today and at least a plurality later, 3D printing will simply add to the mix, not replace it altogether.
  • IE expertise in ergonomics remains as relevant as ever, whether 3D printing toys, tools or prosthetics.
  • Project management continues its trend toward complexity as one relies on disparate experts for design, simulation, manufacturing and testing.
  • When 3D printing is done in revamped or brand new facilities, it is a shift toward job-shop style production with mass customization. That is a shift back toward small lots with a lot of variability but doesn’t make IE obsolete.
  • Quality control remains as important as ever, though automation of inspection becomes harder if not impossible due to the sheer variety one can 3D print.
  • Industrial engineering’s expansion into the service industry will remain unaffected by 3D printing. Demand for IE experts in logistics and supply chain planning will only grow as support for mass customization and production of unique items increases.
  • Industrial engineers in Human Resources will continue to see a decline in the number of unskilled laborers in favor of maximizing the efficiency of semi-skilled and skilled laborers. In short, far fewer low skill assemblers versus more mechanics, engineers and IT staff.
  • Risk management remains equally important and may become more important in an ever-changing world.
  • The demand for product modeling and process modeling by industrial and systems engineers is likely to increase, not decrease, as far more parts are made via 3D models and printed on 3D printers.
  • Likewise, data management, configuration management and requirements management become essential at every business, increasing demand for those who know how to use the supporting software and tools.
  • Data mining and user experience remain frontiers for industrial engineers. Data mining of process data for process improvements and quality initiatives is a particularly strong future area of growth for the profession.


Though I write science fiction based on trends I can see, I don’t expect this to be an all-inclusive list. What would you, the reader, add to this list?

Filed under: An IE in IT

About the Author

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Tamara Wilhite is the IE in IT blogger for the IISE. She is a Six Sigma green belt with experience in IT, PDM software, the defense industry and recycling industries. She currently works as a freelance technical writer.

1 Comment so far

  1. I agree with you. 3D priniting or any new technology does not make IE obsolete. It provides additional work to IEs. IEs have to focus on different areas. Therefore we have to appreciate your specialization in IT

    New technologies do not make IE irrelevant. In Industrial Engineering Focus areas, I added Applied Industrial Engineering as a new area. Focus Areas of Industrial Engineering –

    Applied industrial engineering indicates the application of IE principles, methods and techniques in each new technology to make it more productive and reduce its cost in each application. It involves identifying specific technology and management dimensions that have an effect on productivity (productivity science) and changing the processes and management procedures to maintain the variables in the required magnitudes and proportions (productivity engineering and management). So 3D printing requires industrial engineering and industrial engineers in the area of manufacturing 3D printing machines and also to utilize 3D printing process with increasing levels of productivity.

    Each technological development, increases the work for industrial engineers by providing new technology on which IEs have to work. IE is industry expansion engineering and each new engineering product and service depends on IE for its growth.

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