Contact: Gwendolyn Brown

Assistant to the Chair

Industrial and Operations Engineering

(734) 763-1332

1877 IOE

The First 50 Years of the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering at The University of Michigan
by Don Chaffin

A new book about the history of the Industrial & Operations Engineering Department is available now.

Read for free online through Michigan Publishing.
Purchase a paperback or Kindle edition at

The First 50 Years of IOE

Early 20th Century pioneers in industrial engineering laid the foundation for the development of a Department of Industrial Engineering at UM in 1955. During World War II the importance of using mathematics to enhance strategic and tactical planning became recognized as the new field of operations research, which quickly became an intellectual pillar of the department. The department felt the effects of post-war changes to the College of Engineering as well. In the 1960s the department grew significantly in enrollments and new research programs. At the same time, the computing environment in the department grew and research laboratories were established on North Campus in the G.G. Brown building.

The 1970s saw tough economic and social times in Michigan. The department retained its size but went through some organizational changes: a broadening of the curriculum, the offering of masters degree programs in Flint, and a name change to Industrial and Operations Engineering. At the time, several research centers in the department were being recognized for leading the country in management information systems, ergonomics, hospital systems, and defense systems. By the end of the 1970s the department ranked number one or two of 50 IE programs in the country, a position it has held since then.

During the 1980s the department continued to grow in both the number of faculty and the number of students. An average of about 19 full time faculty members, and about 360 undergraduate and graduate students, made it one of the larger departments in the country and resulted in the need to move fully to North Campus.

Continual growth throughout the 1990s in all three degree programs resulted in over 800 students in the department, and the building of new teaching, meeting, and laboratory spaces and faculty offices. Joint degree programs were developed with the School of Business and the School of Public Health. The nationally recognized Center for Ergonomics started offering short courses to over 400 students annually, and a popular Financial Engineering Program was begun.

The epilogue of this book describes several new major areas of opportunity and emphasis that have developed within the department over the last ten years in healthcare systems engineering, robotics and autonomous vehicles, and big data science. Regardless of whether these areas become the next proving ground for the department, it is clear that the department has an exceptionally strong and proven instructional and research program, led by an outstanding faculty.

About the Author

Don B. Chaffin obtained his PhD from the UM Department of Industrial Engineering in 1968. Though he has been a visiting faculty member at several other universities, he has been on the faculty at UM since 1969. This included serving as the department chair and director of the Center for Ergonomics. He has authored or co-authored over 160 journal articles and six books on ergonomics, which helped to gain his election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1994. He presently is an emeritus Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan.