Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

My Account    |     Create Login

Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Van Gogh and plumbing

Many contest that art and math are severable, and humans are either artsy romanticists or numbers-driven realists. But together, the disciplines transform into basic blocks that help build human achievement and progress.

I remember when math class introduced the X- and Y-axes and started feeding my love for art. I had devoured all the art classes by eighth-grade. A small but inadequate salve to that wound came from geometry and, soon enough, algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

The Van Gogh in me (I have much less talent but both of my ears) liked the plotted graphs and shapes. The practical, mathematical side appreciated translating numbers into graphic representations that illustrated their importance. Calculus classes were fun because, at long last, word problems related to reality. No longer were Jack and Jill leaving New York and Los Angeles at different times, traveling at different speeds, and meeting in St. Louis at a time determined by the ability to answer the question. Instead, they were trying to figure out the velocity of water flow and other basics.

Such knowledge led mankind to one of the joys of modern life – indoor plumbing. Not to mention its necessity for heating and air conditioning. I have no hankering for the “good ol’ days.” Just let me pull a handle or turn a faucet, thank you very much.

This brings us to Pareto charts, a well-known method of representing quality and improvement in a graphical format. They have been used for decades in manufacturing, logistics and other disciplines.

But, as Michel Baudin writes in this month’s cover story on Page 28, certain situations call for different types of communication. The traditional Pareto manifestations described in “Revisiting Pareto in Manufacturing” don’t allow for multiple defects in each product and are difficult for untrained eyes to read. Baudin solves this by looking at the data in a different way and devising a chart more in keeping with the spreadsheets managers know, love and can decipher.

Alas, the result isn’t as artistic as “A Starry Night.” But I can go see Van Gogh’s original in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in heated and air-conditioned comfort.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110.