A Message to Manufacturers… Discover Your Place in Industry 4.0

rich wolinBy Richard Wolin, Director Of Training Services And MMTC Northern Michigan Region

Industry 4.0 is the merging of people, machines, technology, and “the cloud” to produce just the right quantity of goods and services at the right time with the appropriate quality to meet the demand. The definition of Industry 4.0 comes from the previous industrial revolutions:

  • 1780s: Industrial Revolution 1.0 was based on mechanical production equipment driven by water and steam.
  • 1870s: Industrial Revolution 2.0 was based on mass production enabled by the division of labor and the use of electricity.
  • 1960s: Industrial Revolution 3.0 was based on the use of electronics and computers to further automate production.
  • Today: Industrial Revolution 4.0 is based on the use of cyber-physical systems, the merging of computing power and secure cloud data with sensors and robotic machines.

We live in a competitive world with increasing technologies and lowering costs driving significant change. A merging of new and evolving technologies at lower and lower costs, along with changing business management practices that drive down lead times, cycle times, and cost, will result in a more rapidly changing manufacturing environment than we’ve ever seen. Think about the following list of colliding advances: lean manufacturing, robotics and cobotics, low-cost sensors, additive manufacturing, augmented reality and simulation, big data/analytics, the cloud, and cyber security; then think in terms of your most recent experiences where your internet searches and interests are analyzed on the cloud to target you with ads for products you may be interested in buying. Add to all the above the ability of businesses to conduct quick cycle ideation, imaging, simulation, and prototyping of new or improved products thereby reducing the time to market as well as low the risk and cost associated with innovations and you end up a mix of capabilities that is about to get interesting.

The internet can be used to help fund launches and sell products triggering production facilities to begin making them. Computer-controlled manufacturing equipment can produce the correct quantities at the right quality with little to no human operator to monitor as low-cost sensors give feedback to adjust equipment settings in order to maintain quality. Packing labeling and invoicing can also be automated along with the reordering of material to stock the next production run.

In this environment, the human capabilities will change as they have in each successive industrial revolution. People need to have better critical thinking skills, team skills, and STEM skills to keep pace with the higher job requirements. The rewards will be to move into higher-paying jobs.

The goal isn’t to replace people with machines but to replace low-paying, repetitive, dangerous, or difficult work with equipment that can do it quicker, at lower cost, safer, or at higher quality. For people the upside is big, as higher-skilled technicians with be needed to plan, build, program, and maintain the equipment.

The statewide Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center is beginning the process of planning with several partners, including Northwestern Michigan College, to develop strategically located, Industry 4.0 training labs. We will look to technology-driven employers in the region for insights and input into the direction and design of the Lab so that it meets the needs for training staff and students in continually emerging technologies related to our region’s businesses. If your organization would like to have input into this effort, you will be able to engage through participation in the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council or you can contact me directly.

Richard Wolin
Director of Training
Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center
Northwestern Michigan College
1701 East Front Street
Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 995-2003

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