The future of manufacturing is here, and it requires talent with technology training. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance and local colleges and universities are responding with programs to get people the skills they need for next-generation roles.
Data analytics is one of the top technology-related skill sets needed at manufacturing companies, according to an Industry 4.0 study by NEWMA, says Ann Franz, the organization’s executive director. The 2019 study was funded as part of an Industry 4.0 grant from Microsoft and conducted by St. Norbert College.
Industry 4.0 refers to the way advanced manufacturing systems are becoming interconnected and gaining a greater ability to use and analyze information to drive production.
This growing tech connection means Northeast Wisconsin manufacturing companies are seeking new tech talent or working to train incumbent workers in new skills, particularly those who can synthesize the data collected from the increasingly tech-oriented and connected operations. Data analytics allows companies to act on information rather than a gut feeling, Franz says.
“Our companies are competing not just with the company across the street but globally,” Franz says. “If you look at Europe, they were really the kickoff of this Industry 4.0 technology and the importance of digitizing and connecting the manufacturing process together.”
NEWMA launched a data analytics training pilot program in 2020 with the help of Microsoft, kicking off a second session Jan. 12, which included 64 employees from 35 companies, Franz says.
NEWMA is using LinkedIn Learning courses and offers weekly cohort meeting calls featuring content experts and the ability to share practices with one another. The program also requires participants to complete a capstone project based on the training. That shared information will help all participants, Franz says.
Data analytics allows manufacturers to expand far beyond the Excel spreadsheet. With machines connected to one another and the cloud, much more can be gleaned and turned into useful information, including energy function, supply chain, purchasing, warehousing, anticipating repair needs and trends in production.
AriensCo, for example, used data analytics to examine how climate and humidity impact paint quality, allowing the company to create processes that are more predictive and prescriptive, Franz says.
At a recent meeting of NEWMA’s Industry 4.0 Task Force, which grew from 10 members to 80 within a few years, companies including Sargento and Schreiber Foods demonstrated how they’ve been using Industry 4.0 practices within their workplaces.
“It truly is a hot topic,” Franz says. “It’s not going away.”
Among data analytics educational offerings in the region:
- Fox Valley Technical College and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College are planning to add degree programs in data analytics starting this fall. NWTC also plans to offer a data analytics and visualization certificate starting this summer.
- St. Norbert added a data analytics undergraduate major in fall of 2020.
- Lakeland University added an undergraduate program in industrial systems analytics in fall of 2019.
- The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh added a graduate-level data analytics certificate program in fall of 2019 and offers a data science master’s degree program.
- UW-Green Bay has an undergraduate-level data analytics certificate and a data science master’s degree program.
Sue Zittlow, associate dean of the College of Business at NWTC, says information collection has moved beyond the marketing department and onto the manufacturing floor.
“Everything comes with data,” Zittlow says. “There are machines within the manufacturing setting that can all be recording data.”
The associate degree will offer the tools to be able to pull data from various sources, organize it and “provide the story behind the scenes,” she says.
NWTC has been working with NEWMA to develop a new data analytics and visualization certificate as an expansion of the LinkedIn training, which will launch this summer. The data analytics degree program coming in the fall has been shaped by focus groups for Industry 4.0 and data analytics specifically, Zittlow says.
“They were telling us, ‘Hey, this is our need right now. We’ve actually posted positions and we need somebody that really can help us with understanding our data,’” she says.
Similarly, FVTC surveyed industry representatives and discovered a great need for the program, says Brooke Sumner, FVTC’s associate dean of information technology.
“What we found was whether it was higher education, manufacturing, health care — there’s a need for these data specialist positions across industries,” Sumner says.
FVTC already offered data instruction through its software developer program, and its new degree program will have a special emphasis on programming for data collection and reporting, says Joe Wetzel, a software developer and instructor at FVTC.
The program will include Python instruction and SQL (structured query language) for data extraction as well as courses that allow students to understand the complexities of data analysis and teach them to create actionable reports, Wetzel says.
“Data isn’t useful until you transform it into information,” he says.
Wetzel says the school already has seen a lot of demand for the program from the community, students and parents. FVTC’s program can be completed online or in person.
“What’s nice is this will be something available to students outside of the district as well who might not have a program close to home that they can enroll in,” Sumner says.
NWTC also is offering its program in an online or blended capacity and plans to add more computers with high storage capacity to accommodate the program.
NWTC’s courses will focus on mathematical reasoning and critical-thinking skills. “They’ll get into some programming, but it’s going to be that analysis part as well as the data visualization,” Zittlow says.
NWTC expects to see enrollment ranging from the high school level to those with advanced degrees who need to update their skills as needs change.
“We already had a number of folks that are NWTC employees reach out because we ourselves have a lot of data,” Zittlow says.
NEWMA also is working on other programs to help boost the technical skills of manufacturing employees, including pilot programs to build basic digital and remote-working skills for production workers, also offered through LinkedIn at no cost with the Microsoft partnership.
“I just can’t get over how many companies have expressed interest and all the different occupational fields that are participating in this training,” Franz says. “That’s really rewarding.”