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As Industry 4.0 takes hold, manufacturers struggle with where to begin

BY MiBiz Marketing Staff Friday, September 21, 2018 04:11pm


Pick up a manufacturing-oriented trade publication these days, and you’ll probably encounter a deluge of material on the latest 3D printers, collaborative robots or new industrial technology that falls under the wide umbrella of Industry 4.0.

For many, Industry 4.0 represents a powerful force that could take productivity, quality and profits to another level. Collaborative robotics, big data and analysis, spatial awareness and artificial intelligence all have the promise of greatly improving productivity and safety on the plant floor, which many believe will usher in a new era of manufacturing.


Yet for many manufacturers, knowing where to begin or who to talk to about the technology can seem like a daunting proposition.

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Manufacturing Leadership Summit

Date: October 30, 2018

Time: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids, Michigan

REGISTER - Group Discounts Available

Clearing up that path to incorporating Industry 4.0 technology is one of the main goals of the upcoming Manufacturing Leadership Summit hosted by The Right Place, The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West and The Right Place and MMTC-West Manufacturers Council. The event, which will take place October 30 in Grand Rapids, features 21 local and national speakers covering a breadth of Industry 4.0 topics. The conversations will range from high-level overviews of the technology to deeper dives into the implementation process. For The Right Place, the event serves as part of the organization’s ongoing commitment to thought leadership in the manufacturing sector.

“Industry 4.0, in our opinion, is the next iteration of lean (manufacturing),” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place. “We feel very strongly that we need to bring knowledge on what this is and how to implement it to our manufacturers. If you’re running a company day-to-day, you may not catch up on this. We want to bring this to the forefront so that our companies can be prepared for what’s next.”

For Peter Hungerford, chief operating officer of ADAC Automotive, Industry 4.0 also represents an extension of the lean manufacturing philosophy that promises to drive out waste in the manufacturing process. The automotive manufacturer integrated a variety of Industry 4.0-related technology including collaborative robotics, 3D printing and additive manufacturing into its own operations. Hungerford believes this new technology will increase productivity and safety and free up its employees to more effectively engage in and improve the business.

“Industry 4.0 defines the future ecosystem that we will all live in and really is the underlying enabler for the future sustained growth of our organization,” Hungerford said. “We believe that Industry 4.0 will really define and establish how any system will ultimately drive and sustain itself over the long term.”

Stakeholders hope the Manufacturing Leadership Summit will provide a springboard for manufacturers of all sizes to begin what many consider a “journey” toward full adoption of Industry 4.0 technology. Moreover, the event can also act as a catalyst for like-minded manufacturers to meet and begin to share best practices and tips on implementing Industry 4.0 in their own organizations.

“The technology has such a breadth to it, that it’s hard to even go out and understand which consultant should I talk to to start on this journey,” Shawn Crowley, a vice president of Atomic Object and managing partner of the software firm’s Grand Rapids office. “That’s why I think what The Right Place is doing through the Manufacturing Leadership Summit is so invaluable because it’s hyper local, it’s a day of time, and it gives you a broad cross section of making your factory smart all the way to developing and implementing a connected products strategy.”

As technology continues to advance, there is little to suggest the push toward Industry 4.0 will fade away, experts say. To the contrary, many believe that the improvements to productivity, connectivity, safety and other key metrics afforded by Industry 4.0 will make the technology a staple of the manufacturing sector for years to come. 

“The rate of change is inevitable,” said Andy Storm, president and CEO of Eckhard, a Lansing-based automation manufacturer and engineering firm. “It’s not going to go away. If an organization wants to truly survive and thrive in the future, then it is extremely important that they need to take the initiative to learn about the technology, how the technology applies to them and embrace it.”

In the future, industry insiders expect that Industry 4.0 technology will be fully integrated by OEMs and large suppliers and required in some capacity throughout the supply chain. Beginning now will help companies begin their journey toward Industry 4.0. For Klohs and The Right Place, the Manufacturing Leadership Summit provides an entry point to prepare manufacturers for the upcoming technological shifts in the industry under Industry 4.0. 

“We want to help companies get ahead of the curve so that when the OEMs start demanding it or the big Tier 1’s are demanding it, (they’re) not caught by surprise because eventually it will start meandering its way throughout the entire supply chain,” Klohs said.

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