Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

April 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 4

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Simulation articles, studies are well worth the time

I have been reading the December 2011 issue of IE with great care. I also look carefully between the lines, too. The [October 2011] issue with its article about Abraham Maslow (“Meeting Employee Requirements”) was quite irritating. I used to teach a management course in a local university with both graduate and undergraduate students. Maslow was a requirement, and I thought he was out of place – so much so that I felt ill after spending any amount of time on him at all. I hated to cheat the students.

But December’s article about simulation (“Simulation Success Skills”) was quite good and worth reading over and over. Although he wrote in generalities, I could tell that David Sturrock really knows his subject well. The only thing I would add is the importance of making friends along the way. One local employee who understands what you are doing is worth a thousand slides and meetings with the VIPs, who were often entrepreneurs who never heard the word “simulation.” I wondered, “Why haven’t there been many more such articles over the years?”

Some time back (about 1978) when my stepson had just graduated from college in computer science, I asked him if he was going to continue with his studies in graduate school. He said no, that anyone who knew anything about computer science was doing, not teaching. He added that there were no textbooks anyway. He went on to become a vice president at Yahoo and then retired at age 42.

In like manner, the reason I have not seen many other such articles on simulation is that a person or group wise enough to do a good job of simulation probably did not want to spend time writing about the work. Simulation takes many math skills and an ability to stand back and see an entire operation with an eye that knows what is important and what is trivial. These skills often belong to a highly paid individual with a great deal of experience. If a production system has such a person on the payroll, usually he is too busy doing other projects. She would have no time to model his or her operation.

Therefore, an expert or team of experts usually has to be brought in to do the simulation work. That would take a lot of internal selling, and once the simulation was complete, permission would have to be obtained for a printed explanation. Since a company would have paid dearly for the models, its managers would not be likely to allow others to read them for free. Certainly the very large manufacturing companies I have worked with never would allow such a document to be displayed publicly, although they did contribute several case studies to the Harvard MBA program.

So there are only a few articles available and perhaps few simulations.

But if there were simulation studies available, I would read them very closely and with a great deal of interest. I have conducted such studies covertly in several companies by doing one department at a time, never daring to hope to complete a simulation of an entire organization.

If you can look at an activity and determine that reducing cost on all labor and/or materials would have little effect on the company’s profit and loss statement, there would be little use in simulating the activity. But the others, the activities rich in labor and material and inventory costs, virtually cry out for simulation even today, some 30 years after I heard the word.

Thomas S. Fiske
Fullerton, Calif.

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