Despite Industrial Tech’s Growing Sophistication, US Adoption Lags
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how it will bring a return on investment.
—With thousands of open manufacturing jobs across the country, successful Industry 4.0 adoption will depend on trained, highly skilled employees and a “people-centered” culture that celebrates perpetual innovation. Manufacturers currently risk underappreciating and underinvesting in these areas.
—Companies must approach implementing Industry 4.0 innovations holistically rather than product by product or department by department.
—Manufacturing companies need to explore partnerships, alliances, and public-private ventures to make Industry 4.0 a reality. Many of these businesses likely lack the capital and deep technical expertise to plan and execute adoption on their own.
Despite the warnings issued by the report, Kelly is hopeful that the manufacturing industry has begun to turn a corner and take Industry 4.0 adoption more seriously. “We’re starting to see a spark of change,” he says. “I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I felt that this year’s event revealing the report was different—the energy and conversations were different. I felt less discouraged. Everybody was talking about it, and that brings me great hope.”
Kelly attributes the slow rate of change in part to the way manufacturing corporations reacted to the recession a decade ago. Instead of taking on risk, many companies just banked their increased profits once the economy started humming.
“When we would tell them they need to be focused on Industry 4.0, they used to say they just didn’t have the time or the staff,” Kelly explains. “This is anecdotal, but it seems like they’ve started thinking about how they’re going to participate.”
Underpinning the slow rate of industrial technology adoption, Kelly says, is the country’s approach to education and workforce training. “I preach all the time that we need to get better at virtualizing education. You have to get out of the model where training is something a physical cohort does together, and then you get a certificate or degree. We suffer from a lack of imagination, and we need to move much, much faster.”
Kelly would like to see more programs that allow students to take equipment like virtual reality headsets home and conduct training modules at their own pace and on their own time. “If you gamify it and offer a cash prize, kids will spend hundreds of hours to win the game,” he says. “It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than spending $10,000 per student.”
Kelly hopes to see more dialogue between software and manufacturing companies, as well as an increased appetite among government officials and policy makers to create workforce development programs that “take educated risks but don’t bet the farm.”
Kelly says Automation Alley is striving to turn the spark of Industry 4.0 interest into action to build a groundswell of early adopters.
“I think Michigan is a little to a lot behind—not from the US perspective, but compared to Europe, Mexico, and China,” Kelly maintains. “We need to take action and not just talk about how cool these technologies are. We have no national strategy, and we need to understand that these other countries view winning as leapfrogging over the US. We’re not taking competitive risks as seriously as we should, but the only things holding us back are apathy and a lack of understanding.”