Wouter Bam - Bringing Together Engineering And Economics

“As an industrial engineer,” says Dr. Wouter Bam, “you have a real opportunity to use your interdisciplinary knowledge and problem-solving skills to make an impact.” His research is used by policymakers in developing countries to determine how best to develop their resources. 

Dr. Wouter Bam

Education: PhD in Industrial Engineering (Stellenbosch University) and Economics (KU Leuven), MPhil in Industrial Systems, Manufacturing and Management (University of Cambridge), BEng (Industrial) (Stellenbosch University)

What led you to engineering?

I always liked math and physics, and engineering seemed like a place I could build on those interests.

I focused on industrial engineering because of its broad range of applications. I did a joint PhD in industrial engineering and economics looking at the topic of industrial policy, and, more specifically, on how developing countries can make better policy decisions that support sustainable development.

Tell us about your research.

My initial research focused on looking at how developing countries that are rich in minerals might best develop their resources, whether that’s processing these minerals at home and then exporting them, or exporting the raw materials and importing the final products. I’ve developed a range of quantitative and qualitative analytical tools – using machine learning and multi-objective decision making – that help countries assess these policy options and calculate the optimal development pathways for specific industries and products. 

Why is this research important?

If policymakers don’t have these kinds of nuanced tools to help them understand the environmental, economic and social impacts of different development options, they tend to fall back on simpler ideologies, like resource nationalism. This can lead to negative economic, environmental and social impacts. 

A related area of my research is looking at how technologies are adopted in different industries and identifying the barriers hampering their uptake.

This can have significant repercussions in industries like health care, for example. I’m working with a colleague in civil engineering to look at what’s preventing the more widespread adoption of innovative construction technologies. 

Civil Engineering

Your research is very interdisciplinary, bringing together a lot of areas outside of engineering. 

It is! My broad area of research is industrial engineering, which integrates many different areas of study.

At a factory level, an industrial engineer will look at everything from sourcing materials and working with suppliers to optimizing factory layout, improving employee motivation, finding ways to improve safety and how to keep innovating. But industrial engineers work in many different areas beyond manufacturing industries. 

Watch Dr. Wouter Bam speak at UBC Engineering Open House

What undergraduate courses do you teach?

I just moved to Kelowna in October, and starting in January 2024 I will be teaching courses on lifecycle assessment and sustainability engineering design.

Sustainability Engineering Design Course

Why should students choose UBC?

I can answer that question by talking about what brought me here. I am really excited about the growth of the manufacturing engineering program at UBC Okanagan. It’s exciting to be part of a small entrepreneurial community that also has the resources that come with a world-class university like UBC. The end-to-end system thinking that is the hallmark of an industrial engineer is something we really hope to achieve in our manufacturing program on the Okanagan campus. Students who study manufacturing engineering will be exposed to this management side of engineering. 

Manufacturing Engineering

School of Engineering

Anything else you want to add?

Industrial engineers are incredibly versatile and in high demand in many different industries because of their ability to analyze systems and see the big picture.

They can use their skills across industries–from health and manufacturing to banking or mining. So even if one industry is in a slump, your skills are valued and applicable to other areas. As an engineer, you have a real opportunity to use interdisciplinary knowledge and problem-solving skills to make an impact. 

UBC manufacturing engineering students

Manufacturing Engineering

Students in the Manufacturing program will gain broad exposure to foundational engineering disciplines, and training across a range of major manufacturing processes and platforms, and instruction in production management and modern manufacturing...

Manufacturing Engineering

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