Many experts claim that we have entered a new period of industrialization, calling it Industry 4.0. The dramatic change in this phase of automation is driven by the objective of seamless connectivity, leading to the promise of a “smart” factory, where machines can communicate through wireless networks and sensors to ultimately guide the entire production line and make decisions on its own.
What’s igniting this promise are dramatic advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, additive manufacturing (i.e., 3-D printing) and networking (i.e., 5G and more secure networks).
The goals of Industry 4.0 are simple — to increase productivity and accuracy, reduce waste, and support further personalization/customization of the products being produced. Given the current labor shortage in U.S. manufacturing, advances in technology are critical to growing a healthy manufacturing base.
So, what does this mean to the owner of a manufacturing plant or someone who is considering the purchase of or investment in a factory?
To remain competitive, factories need to understand where Industry 4.0 investments are being made today, both in the U.S. and abroad, and what makes sense for their own manufacturing needs.
This means working with experts and/or attending conferences and educational programs that provide practical insight and real-life experiences of attempting to create a smart factory. It’s important to note that while much of this technology may seem somewhat futuristic, components of it are being put into production worldwide every day.
If you are a consumer of manufactured products for your business or service — and most of us are in some way — understand that you might have more options in the creation of custom product to meet your business needs. That will help you grow more profitably, so talk to your suppliers about their Industry 4.0 strategies.
New skills needed
Most important, the movement toward Industry 4.0 will create a need for employees skilled in understanding these links among machines, software and networks.
Roles such as robot coordinators, industrial data scientists, IT solutions architects and digitally assisted field service engineers will become as common as production managers and machinists. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources like O*Net, it is expected that Industry 4.0 will drive the creation of 900,000 new jobs by 2025.
The fourth industrial revolution, like those that preceded it, can stimulate opportunity and growth for many of today’s industries, while paving the way to produce goods and services that we haven’t even thought of yet. Be sure to stay on top of it.
Suzy Teele is the head of Marketing & Communications at Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing, the nation’s leading collaborative in robotics and workforce innovation. Structured as a public-private partnership, ARM works with 200 member organizations to accelerate the advancement of transformative robotic technologies and education to increase U.S. global manufacturing competitiveness.