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Educating manufacturers, developing pathways vital to Industry 4.0 success

Posted on Aug 28, 2019 :: Manufacturing
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

After a study conducted by the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance showed most manufacturers were not prepared for Industry 4.0 — or didn’t know exactly what it was — the next question became: What’s next?

For NEWMA Director Ann Franz, the answer is multifaceted: educating companies and helping them prepare for what’s coming while also readying the workforce for what lies ahead.

“We are focused on educating our members about what Industry 4.0 all means. For some, they don’t even have the right equipment in place to move to this next stage,” she says. “For others, it will be learning that system integration comes first. For many companies, that’s a low-hanging fruit they can take care of.”

The survey results announced in June showed 88 percent of companies in the region had a partial plan or no plan at all for how they would implement Industry 4.0. Microsoft funded the survey and Michelle Schuler, Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin manager, says manufacturers will drive many of the Industry 4.0 advancements.

“Hearing from manufacturers about how they will use technology and identifying the skills workers will need can help bridge the talent gap so people can have good jobs and businesses can grow their ventures,” she says. “Both of which help to grow our state’s prosperity.”

To help NEWMA educate members about Industry 4.0, Franz says the organization will offer sessions on Industry 4.0 at the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference on Oct. 30 at the KI Center in Green Bay.

It’s also partnering with the Greater Green Bay Chamber on its Manufacturing Forward series, which looks to help manufacturers better understand the implications of Industry 4.0, productivity and automation. The five-part series features half-day programs that will provide attendees with specific takeaways they can implement, says Kelly Armstrong, vice president of economic development for the Greater Green Bay Chamber.

“The program is all about getting manufacturers the information they need. The NEWMA survey found that many businesses don’t have a plan to implement Industry 4.0. They’ve heard about it, but don’t know where to start,” she says. “We want to help companies get started on the path to implementation of Industry 4.0.”

Armstrong says the program is designed for manufacturers with 75 to 225 employees and will offer a mix of presentations from experts and sharing of success stories from other businesses.

“If I’m a business owner and I hear directly from another business owner what they were able to do, that hits home with me,” she says.

Finding the workforce

Besides educating manufacturers about Industry 4.0 and how they can implement it in their businesses, Franz says another key focus is educating the current and future workforce about how the new technologies will change the work being done.

NEWMA is working with manufacturers and the Northeast Wisconsin Educational Resource Alliance (NEW ERA) to create Industry 4.0 career pathways for process engineering and data analytics.

“I’m glad we’re being proactive with Industry 4.0,” Franz says. “We’ve worked with educators and manufacturers before when faced with staffing challenges, such as welding
and engineering. We’re going to do the same now but before we reach that crucial crunch time.”

Microsoft’s Schuler says bridging the skills gap is essential to implementing Industry 4.0.

“(Career pathways) are really pathways of opportunity for people to get the skills needed for good-paying jobs, for companies to get the talent they need to grow and for our community to attract new employers looking for a skilled workforce,” she says. “We are working with partners across the region to increase access for people to learn digital skills and then make the connection to employers who are hungry for their talent through career pathways.”

Franz says on NEWMA’s Internship Draft Day in November, the group plans to take educators to local manufacturers and then return to Lambeau Field to discuss the new career pathways and what kind of education is needed for these workers.

“There’s going to be a lot of sharing,” she says. “We’re definitely going to be working closely with NEW ERA on this.”

In developing the new career pathways, it doesn’t help that there’s not a simple job description for process engineers. Depending on the business, it may be looking for a manufacturing process engineer, while another one is searching for a chemical process engineer, Franz says.

“With educational institutions, it’s looking at what programs we have available now and how we can tweak it to make sure a student graduating with an engineering degree or an engineering tech degree has the necessary skills to fill that process engineering role,” she says. “We may develop courses that can fit in around other courses offered in that area of study.”

Businesses also may need to work with incumbent workers to improve their skills in certain areas as Industry 4.0 is implemented, and programs need to be in place to help with that as well.

As for fears that Industry 4.0 may eliminate some jobs as AI or other new technologies are implemented, Armstrong says that worry is unfounded.

“We are past the skills gap. We’re at a body gap now,” she says. “Robots, for example, can augment employees and lead to increased productivity. Industry 4.0 is about making businesses more productive so they can keep pace in a faster-paced world.

Defining Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 marries advanced production and operations techniques with smart digital technologies and can include robotics, analytics, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and more.

Learning more

Industry 4.0 will be a topic of discussion in several sessions at the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference, which will be held Oct. 30 at the KI Center, Green Bay. Learn more at manufacturingfirst.com.

The Greater Green Bay Chamber’s Manufacturing Forward program features five monthly sessions and aims to help companies understand the implications of Industry 4.0 and provide specific takeaways. Registration is limited to 20 businesses. Contact the chamber’s Lauren Cooling at (920) 496-2102.