Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Driving Operational Excellence: Insights from Riad Ardahji, Industrial Engineering Expert

Riad Ardahji

Riad Ardahji

Industrial Engineer

  • The most rewarding aspect of working as an industrial engineer is seeing tangible improvements and increased efficiency in processes and systems.
  • Professional certifications like Lean Six Sigma, PMP, and others can significantly enhance industrial engineers’ career prospects and professional development. They can open doors to new opportunities and higher salaries.
  • The field of industrial engineering is evolving rapidly, requiring industrial engineers to stay adaptable, embrace new technologies, and prioritize sustainability.
  • Aspiring industrial engineers should focus on developing skills in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation, as well as knowledge in sustainability, supply chain management, and digital twin technology.

Could you share the moment or experience that first sparked your interest in industrial engineering and led you to pursue it as your career path?

“I’ve always been fascinated by the way things work and how to make them work better. As a child, I would take apart and reassemble toys, appliances, and electronics to understand their inner mechanics. This curiosity eventually led me to discover industrial engineering, which combines math, science, and creativity to optimize processes and systems. At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I attended an open house for engineering majors, which further fueled my passion for industrial engineering. I was amazed by how industrial engineers could design and implement solutions to improve efficiency, reduce waste, and enhance productivity. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in industrial engineering and make a meaningful impact in this field.”

What were the key milestones in your career that led you to where you are today?

  • Working for successful Fortune 500 companies like DuPont, Adient, Cooper Tire, Leggett & Platt, Toyota Boshoku, Zimmer Biomet, Denso, etc.
  • Leading Continuous Improvement & Operations Excellence Transformation at DuPont, Kevlar unit. 
  • Founder of Michiana Lean, LLC, an industrial engineering consulting firm specializing in Lean Six Sigma transformation and Operations Excellence. 
  • Led the Global Lean Assessment (Cooper Production System) Team for Cooper.  
  • Implemented a global e-LPA (Layer Process Audit) at Cooper Tire (+500 global users and over 1000 audits per week). 
  • Successfully completed Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Examiner training by NIST (2014). 
  • Received Sourcing Functional Team of the Year Award at Zimmer (2014). 
  • Handpicked by TBA CEO to lead Toyota’s Monozukuri activities in North America (2012). 
  • Awarded CEO CI Excellence Award at Leggett & Platt/ Syndicate Systems (2010). 
  • Developed a new Andon system “Honky-Tonk” improving OEE based on the Jidoka concept (2010). 
  • Provided leadership, training and mentoring to over 20 lean facilitators generating over $2M in savings annually. 
  • Completed Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at the Center for Executive Education (UT-Knoxville 2008).
  • Nominated as Elkhart County’s Best and Brightest (2007). 
  • Getting my Master’s in Industrial Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

What challenges did you face early in your career, and how did you overcome them?

“I faced challenges such as:

  • Communication barriers with cross-functional teams.
  • Limited resources and budget constraints.
  • Resistance to change from stakeholders.

To overcome these challenges, I:

  • Developed strong communication and collaboration skills.
  • Prioritized projects and leveraged data to justify resource needs.
  • Built relationships and presented data-driven evidence to stakeholders.

By adapting and learning from these experiences, I improved my ability to drive process improvements, optimize operations, and add value to organizations.”

What’s Life as an Industrial Engineer?

What does a typical day look like for an industrial engineer?

“Industrial engineers devise efficient systems that integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to make a product or provide a service. Industrial engineers work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and more. Their goal is to optimize efficiency, reduce waste, and increase productivity in all aspects of operations.

A typical day for an industrial engineer can vary depending on their specific job duties and industry. However, some common tasks that an industrial engineer may perform on a typical day include:

  • Analyzing data and production schedules to identify areas for improvement.
  • Designing and implementing process improvements to increase efficiency and reduce waste.
  • Conducting time studies and motion analysis to optimize worker productivity.
  • Developing and implementing quality control procedures.
  • Collaborating with other departments, such as manufacturing, logistics, and procurement, to optimize overall operations.
  • Identifying and implementing cost-saving measures.
  • Conducting safety audits and implementing safety protocols.
  • Troubleshooting issues with equipment or processes and finding solutions.
  • Working with a team to implement new equipment or processes.
  • Acting as a change agent, transforming how an organization operates by inspiring and influencing others.
  • Facilitating lean workshops, coaching participants, and mentoring.
  • Conducting training sessions for workers to introduce new processes or equipment.
  • Staying up-to-date with industry trends and technologies to identify opportunities for improvement.”

What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about working in industrial engineering?

“Most rewarding:

  • Seeing tangible improvements and increased efficiency in processes and systems.
  • Solving complex problems and finding creative solutions.
  • Collaborating with diverse teams and stakeholders.
  • Continuously learning and staying up-to-date with cutting-edge technologies.
  • Making a positive impact on the organization and society.

Most challenging:

  • Balancing technical and business aspects of projects.
  • Managing resistance to change from stakeholders.
  • Dealing with complex data sets and analysis.
  • Staying up-to-date with rapidly evolving technologies and methodologies (3D Printing, IOT, New ISO Standards, etc.).
  • Communicating technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders.

How important are professional certifications, such as Lean Six Sigma, PMP, or others, for industrial engineers in enhancing their career prospects and professional development?

“Great question! Professional certifications like Lean Six Sigma, PMP, and others can significantly enhance industrial engineers’ career prospects and professional development. They demonstrate expertise, commitment, and a willingness to continuously improve. These certifications can open doors to new opportunities and higher salaries. I am fortunate to have earned my MBB and trained in TPS in Japan.”

In your view, how is the field of industrial engineering evolving, and what key trends do you see shaping the profession in the next decade?

“The field of industrial engineering is evolving rapidly, with key trends shaping the profession in the next decade including:

  • Augmented reality, machine automation, IOT 4.0, and more.
  • Connectivity, advanced analytics, automation, and advanced manufacturing technology.
  • Upskilling and reskilling to adapt to disruptive technologies (AI, 3D Printing, Robotics, Autonomous vehicles, Electric vehicles, etc.).
  • Focus on sustainability and eco-efficiency.
  • Transformation of industries, with operations-intensive sectors experiencing the greatest change.

These trends will significantly impact the profession, requiring industrial engineers to stay adaptable, embrace new technologies, and prioritize sustainability.

Tips and Advice for Aspiring Industrial Engineers

Based on your extensive experience as a professor at the Indiana Institute of Technology, what are the most common challenges that industrial engineering students face, and how can they effectively overcome these hurdles?

“Great question! Based on my experience, common challenges faced by industrial engineering students include:

  • Time management and prioritization.
  • Balancing theoretical knowledge with practical applications.
  • Understanding complex systems and analyzing data.
  • Working effectively in teams and communicating with stakeholders.
  • Staying motivated and dealing with stress.

To overcome these hurdles, students can:

  • Develop a schedule and set realistic goals
  • Seek hands-on experiences through internships, projects, or research
  • Break down complex problems into manageable parts and seek help when needed
  • Practice communication and teamwork skills through group projects and extracurricular activities
  • Set achievable milestones, prioritize self-care, and seek support from peers, advisors, or mental health resources

By addressing these challenges, students can succeed in their courses and projects at college and thrive in their future careers as industrial engineers!”

As the profession evolves, what new skills and areas of knowledge do you recommend aspiring industrial engineers focus on to remain competitive and effective in their careers?

“Aspiring industrial engineers should focus on developing skills in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and automation, as well as knowledge in sustainability, supply chain management, and digital twin technology. Staying adaptable and continuously learning will also help them remain competitive and effective in their careers.”

Based on your vision for the future of industrial engineering, what advice would you give to students and young professionals entering the field today?

“To students and young professionals entering the field of industrial engineering today, I would advise:

  • Embrace lifelong learning and stay curious about emerging technologies.
  • Develop strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Focus on sustainability and societal impact in your work.
  • Build strong communication and collaboration skills.
  • Stay adaptable and open to new challenges and opportunities.
  • Consider interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations.
  • Prioritize ethical considerations in your work.
  • Seek out mentorship and guidance from experienced professionals.
  • Be proactive in shaping the future of the field.
  • Attend IE conferences and workshops. Network with your peers from different industries.”

Reader Q & A with Riad Ardahji

“Ask yourself these simple questions:

  • Do you enjoy solving complex problems and optimizing systems?
  • Are you interested in combining technology, business, and people skills?
  • Do you want to improve efficiency, productivity, and sustainability in various industries?
  • Are you fascinated by data analysis, automation, and innovation?
  • Do you want a career with diverse opportunities and a strong impact on society?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, industrial engineering may be a great fit for you!”

  • Healthcare: The healthcare sector offers excellent prospects for industrial engineers with specialized training. Earning a compelling industrial engineering salary in this sector is possible, especially for those with a master’s degree.
  • Consulting: Industrial engineers assist organizations across multiple industries to improve efficiency and productivity.
  • Logistics: Industrial engineers streamline supply chain operations, improve service levels, reduce inventory, and optimize transportation systems.

  • Find a mentor.
  • Join a professional organization.
  • Attend industry conferences and tech events.
  • Connect with peers and colleagues on LinkedIn.
  • Prioritize learning.
  • Reading books.
  • Share ideas with your peers.
  • Watch TED talks

The Hawthorne Effect is a phenomenon where individuals modify their behavior in response to being observed. This can result in temporary increases in productivity. The effect was first observed in a series of experiments conducted between 1924 and 1932 at the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric plant in Cicero, Illinois. The study found that changes in work structure, such as changes in rest periods, led to increases in productivity. Additionally, the study found that the novelty of being research subjects and the increased attention from being part of the study led to temporary increases in workers’ productivity. Industrial engineers should be aware of this phenomenon when conducting experiments or observing workers, as it can affect the outcome of the study.”

  1. Problem-Solving
  2. Customer Focus
  3. Innovation / Kaizen Mind
  4. Change Management
  5. Process Management
  6. Perseverance
  7. Self-Development
  8. Influencing Others
  9. Time and Priority Management
  10. Technical and Professional Skills

“Do better today than yesterday and do better tomorrow than today!”


Riad Ardahji

About the Author

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