Meeting of Like Minds

At the IIE conference, Professor Robert Young receives the inaugural George L. Smith Award and meets the man himself

The ISE award breakfast kicked off the most anticipated industrial engineering event of the year, the 2014 Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) Conference and Expo. The breakfast was to honor ISE Professor Robert Young. He received the inaugural George L. Smith International Award for Excellence in Promotion of Industrial Engineering. “It’s nice that someone in our department won this first-time award,” said Dr. Young. “It speaks volumes about our department.” The award breakfast was not only attended by academic and industry leaders from around the world, but one special guest as well, Dr. George L. Smith, the award’s namesake. Dr. Smith is a Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering at the Ohio State University. “I, of course, knew all about Dr. Smith,” said Young. “It was quite an honor to meet the man in person.”

“We selected Dr. Young based on his long-standing contributions to the industrial engineering discipline,” said the IIE. “He has been a goodwill ambassador for the profession across national boundaries.”


Dr. Smith’s greatest legacy to the global IE community has been his international promotion of the industrial engineering profession. He is a lifetime member and a fellow of the IIE and has served as a long-term member on its Board of Trustees. So to honor his commitment and dedication to the advancement of the profession and recognize the contributions of other industrial engineers who continue in this tradition of advancing the profession globally, IIE established the George L. Smith International Award for Excellence in Promotion of Industrial Engineering.


Over his 40-year career, Dr. Young has made many contributions to the globalization of industrial engineering. He has built a stronger community of professionals across national and cultural boundaries.

Young’s international industrial engineering activities began in 1986. He took a two year leave from NC State to work with the Institute of Production Management and Industrial Engineering in Denmark. While there, he helped establish the $2.5 million Computer Integrated Manufacturing Laboratory. Its purpose was to develop technology and educational materials so Danish industry could computerize their production operations. To complete the project, he utilized technology he had developed earlier while working for the U.S. Air Force.

In the fall of 1988, Young was a Guest Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration in Austria. He taught a course on the approach and modeling techniques developed for the Danish project and transferred the technology to their faculty.

Upon his return to NC State, Young became a co-principle investigator of a $1.2 million research project. Within this project his team developed a new approach for system configuration design based upon constraint networks.

In 1994, the University of Aachen in Germany became interested in his constraint network approach and invited him to join their project. He worked with them to build a configuration system to help their team design wind turbines.

While in Aachen, Young worked with Hans-Jurgen Zimmerman, one of the fathers of Fuzzy Logic. Upon his return to NC State, he developed his fuzzy constraint technology for system configuration. This work drew the attention of Ford’s European Research Center back in Aachen, Germany. There he worked with a Russian team to develop a fuzzy constraint-based system. His virtual factory approach used excess capacity at three plants in Brazil, Germany and France, to create an extra factory for transmission production. This project resulted in the transfer of his fuzzy constraint technology to both Ford’s European Research Center and to Russia’s St. Petersburg State University.

Young’s extensive global experience help him to identify the limited global awareness and language skill of U.S. industrial engineering students. To address this need, he created the first Industrial Engineering Exchange Program between Brazil and the U.S. The goal of his project was clear. “Students completing this program will be able to organize and take part in international engineering design teams since they will understand the cross-cultural issues that can impede successful team performance,” said Young.

The project funded students to study for five months in Brazil. It included the creation of an intensive language training program that provided the equal of two years of Portuguese instruction in just over a semester. This allowed students to take industrial engineering courses in Portuguese with the Brazilian students. Additionally, all industrial engineering courses at the U.S. and Brazilian universities were analyzed to ensure credit transfer. Most importantly, the program created an International Engineering Certification that appeared on the students’ transcripts. It certifies that they had studied engineering in another country, had taken their engineering courses in that country’s language, and were prepared to work within an international engineering community in a foreign language.

The exchange program funded a total of 70 students and yet its impact was far greater. It set the stage for other student exchanges that continue today. Programs include 39 faculty members to go abroad to the participating universities. It has also strengthened the relationship between IIE and the Brazilian Industrial Engineering Society, Associação Brasileira de Engenharia de Produção.