You have asked some excellent questions. Engineers always have to consider cost, time, and labor when they think about their projects. For example, in my work, helping to select the new power plant for an electric utility, three cost factors are important – capital, operating and maintenance, and fuel. A car is a good analogy to a power plant. The capital cost is how much it costs to buy the car. The operating and maintenance cost is how much is costs to keep it in good repair – changing the oil, rotating the tires, fixing things when they break. The fuel cost is the gasoline. These power plants have to operate for around 30 years, so the costs to build, operate and fuel them are very important.
Engineers often run projects and are thus very involved in the business aspect. The project has to become operational on time. It must be at or below budget. And it must be done with the human resources (labor) and equipment that are available or made available. I have a Masters in Business Administration in addition to my engineering degree. This has helped me be a manager and understand the finance and accounting side of the business – from income statements, to cash flow, to balance sheets.
Industrial engineers, like every other kind of engineer, encompass a wide variety of possible environments. The types of clothes they wear vary with the environment and the needs of their projects.
One of my very favorite books to recommend to you is called “Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers” by Sybil Hatch. One of the industrial engineers featured in this book helped create and develop Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park in Florida. She traveled to water parks around the U.S. and studied layouts, rides and guest patterns to use in designing the Disney resort. (I bet she wore a bathing suite to work!) Another industrial engineer featured in that book designed a slide to help tiny shrimp and other marine life return to the ecosystem rather than get pulled into a pump drawing water for a power plant. Her inspiration for the low-friction device was fiberglass swimming pool slides.
I’ve been an engineer for a long time – and I highly recommend engineering as a career for women!
Jill S. Tietjen