Industry 4.0 is the buzzword of the manufacturing world, but when talking with area manufacturers about it, Ann Franz says most weren’t exactly sure what it meant.
Franz, the director of the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, determined it was time to ask businesses of all sizes about Industry 4.0 and their preparations for it. The survey would not only gather data on readiness, it would also raise awareness about the topic. About that time, Microsoft approached her offering funding for a study.
“The timing was right. They really helped us hear what the small- and medium-sized manufacturers are thinking about Industry 4.0,” she says.
The survey, which was conducted by the Strategic Research Institute at St. Norbert College, asked NEWMA members about Industry 4.0 and how they might incorporate it into their daily operations.
“I had some businesses tell me they had to look up what some of the terms in the survey meant,” Franz says. “The study raised awareness about the issue, and now more manufacturers are looking at what they need to do.”
Industry 4.0 marries advanced production and operations techniques with smart digital technologies and can include robotics, analytics, artificial intelligence, wearables, the internet of things and more.
“The survey showed us that 88 percent of companies had a partial plan or no plan at all as to how they would implement Industry 4.0,” Franz says.
Tony Olson, director of AI strategy at Excelion Partners in Neenah and a member of the survey task force, was not surprised with the results. He says manufacturers tend to wade into Industry 4.0 either due to CEO interest in the subject or because a company the business works with encourages it.
“Initiatives around new technologies come from wanting more data and information about what’s happening in a plant. Leaders want to take that data, analyze it and then look for ways to make improvements,” Olson says. “Early Industry 4.0 adopters have seen a lot of success, which I expect will grow interest among others.”
For manufacturers that have invested or are planning to invest in updated technology, cybersecurity and automation/robotics were the top two areas of investment, says Jamie Lynch, the study’s author and executive director of the Strategic Research Institute at St. Norbert College. But while companies recognize the need for investment in those areas, he points out fewer than 20 percent are “greatly invested” in those technologies.
Other IT areas gaining traction elsewhere such as virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain and additive manufacturing did not pique much interest among the region’s manufacturers, Lynch says.
“A number of our area companies report that they’re not sure how (and when) those very important Industry 4.0 technologies will have an impact on them,” he says.
While the study showed larger manufacturers are more interested in Industry 4.0 initiatives, Lynch says it’s something businesses of all sizes need to look at.
With the study results in hand, NEWMA is now focused on educating manufacturers about Industry 4.0 and crafting career pathways for the in-demand jobs cited by businesses as they embark on their Industry 4.0 initiatives.
Regarding education, Franz says several sessions at this year’s Manufacturing First Conference and Expo on Oct. 30 at the KI Center in Green Bay will focus on Industry 4.0. NEWMA also is partnering with the Greater Green Bay Chamber on its Manufacturing Forward program to educate businesses about Industry 4.0.
As part of the survey, manufacturers were asked what jobs they were struggling to fill, and “process engineer” was the top response, but Franz says the definition of what a process engineer does varies from business to business.
“The demand is very high for that position, but if you go to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh or Platteville, you won’t find a process engineer degree as an option,” she says. “Our goal is to help colleges see what the demands in the workplace are and how they may tweak their offerings to meet them.”
Data analytic skills are another sought-after talent for manufacturers throughout the supply chain, Olson says. “It’s definitely not going away. Business leaders want as much information as possible, and looking at the data and analyzing it provides a lot,” he says.
NEWMA’s next step is to develop career pathways for two of the in-demand jobs mentioned in the study. Microsoft, in addition to providing the $65,000 for the study, is donating another $20,000 to help implement those pathways.
Michelle Schuler, manager of TechSpark Wisconsin for Microsoft, says the region needs people trained for jobs in process engineering and cybersecurity now and that demand will only grow.
“We are losing 18- to 25-year-olds. They’re leaving our region. Why? We have great companies here,” she says. “We just need to open our doors early enough … to let them in.”
To develop the pathways, NEWMA will work with businesses and postsecondary institutions to identify what kinds of skills and education are necessary for careers. They will then develop programs and share that information so students and adults looking for new job skills know what steps they need to take to work in high-demand fields.
Franz says to fill the need for more data analysis, colleges could adjust current programs to include a data analytics class.
“Part of this process is taking a look at the education programs we have now and looking at how we can adjust them to better meet what employers are looking for,” she says. “Identifying the necessary skills to work in an Industry 4.0 plant is essential, although many employers will upskill their workers. The career pathways are essential to attracting and preparing workers for what’s ahead.”
The survey indicated the most in-demand manufacturing jobs in the next three years are expected to be:
Industrial computer programmers
Data management analysts
Data engineers and architects