I have been a member of IIE for nearly thirty years and I am now a Fellow member of the Institute.
I may be the first IE who has actively involved himself in research and development in the field of construction. I have used my manufacturing background and training and applied some variations of modern fabrication technologies to the field of construction. In principle, one of my inventions, called Contour Crafting, has allowed for the possibility of applying the modern computer controlled fabrication technology to construction of large-scale objects such as houses and other civil structures.
My educational background in manufacturing systems -- primarily in various planning fields -- and in manufacturing technologies (fabrication processes, CAD/CAM, robotics, etc.) have been instrumental. But by far my own personal initiative in learning about the physics of nature, mechanisms, electronics, computer hardware, robotics, and autonomous systems has been most essential in this and other technology creation and development projects in which I have endeavored.
I have been an outspoken critic of "Soft IE." I have always believed that we need more solid engineering background in the IE educational curriculum. Without such background, IEs will not be able to reach far and contribute in the advanced fields of technology.
In the traditional sense, construction is another form of fabrication with a great deal of similarity to traditional manufacturing. The main differences are in: a) materials used, b) lot sizes of similar products, and c) location where fabrication is done. Rarely is any manufactured object made of construction materials such as plaster, concrete, clay, etc. Most construction projects involve one-of-a-kind fabrication, and unlike in manufacturing where materials are brought to the place where production resources reside (i.e., the factory), in construction the production resources are taken to the site of each single product.
Perhaps because of the above factors, manufacturing and construction have evolved into two different cultures. I also think that because the early work by Fredrick Taylor was in the domain of manufacturing, industrial engineers used the traditional IE principles only in manufacturing settings. However, those principles apply equally well in the construction industry. Furthermore, issues related to logistics of construction including planning, scheduling, project management, etc. can benefit from the same OR-based developments made for manufacturing systems. IEs have been simply unaware of their potential in the construction industry. Systematic presentation of potential areas of activity in construction and mapping of these applications to available IE tools may be a good contribution that our Construction Division can make at this early stage of its formation.
In addition to the above considerations, I am of the belief that there is a great potential for application of some manufacturing technologies in construction. As I indicated earlier, I have developed and migrated one such manufacturing technology to the construction domain. Others should look into other possibilities in manufacturing processes and various related technologies in fabrication, measurement, and material handling. IEs should become aware of various automation approaches used or considered for use in construction. Japan and Europe are especially advanced in this field.
I think the claim made by that company in your question is true. IEs must take a closer look at what is happening in the construction industry and become aware of their excellent potentials for involvement and the worthy contributions that they can make. Let us not forget that manufacturing could be taken offshore, but construction is here to stay and its economic volume is significantly higher than that of manufacturing, especially in this country.
My hope is that IE researchers will develop construction tools and technologies that will be new and superior to what has been in use. As an IE researcher who has had little background in construction, civil engineering, or architecture, I have demonstrated that it is possible to do new things in the world of construction if we apply ourselves and direct our knowledge and effort toward advancing this important field. In my role I will try to help advance IE education and research in various fields of construction. Creation of construction tracks in IE-related conferences, creation of IE tracks in construction-related conferences, creation of sample construction management curricula, efforts in securing the allocation of research budget by funding agencies for IE construction research (such as my ongoing effort in the IIE Council of Fellows) are some of the activities that I will carry out.
I would like to welcome all who have joined our community. We share a vision that is clear and robust. The attention that our profession should have given to construction is long overdue. Together we will make a lasting impact that will improve shelters, infrastructures, safety, and environment for people all over the world. If we adhere to this vision we will grow healthier and stronger.