Industrial Engineering

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PIONEERS OF INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING - FRANK AND LILLIAN GILBRETH

PIONEERS OF INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING - FRANK AND LILLIAN GILBRETH

The other cornerstone of the early days of industrial engineering was provided by the husband and wife team of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Consumed by a similar passion for efficiency, Frank Gilbreth’s application of the scientific method to the laying of bricks produced results that were as revolutionary as those of Taylor’s shoveling experiment. He and Lillian extended the concepts of scientific management to the identification, analysis, and measurement of fundamental motions involved in performing work. By applying the motion-picture camera to the task of analyzing motions they were able to categorize the elements of human motions into 18 basic elements or therbligs. This development marked a distinct step forward in the analysis of human work, for the first time permitting analysts to design jobs with knowledge of the time required to perform the job. In many respects these developments also marked the beginning of the much broader field of human factors or ergonomics.

While their work together stimulated much research and activity in the field of motion study, it was Lillian who also provided significant insight and contributions to the human issues associated with their studies. Lillian’s book, The Psychology of Management (based on her doctoral thesis in psychology at Brown University), advanced the premise that because of its emphasis on scientific selection and training, scientific management offered ample opportunity for individual development, while traditional management stifled such development by concentrating power in a central figure. Known as the “first lady of engineering,” she was the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering and is generally credited with bringing to the industrial engineering profession a concern for human welfare and human relations that was not present in the work of many pioneers of the scientific management movement.

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