Embracing change and industry 4.0

Robotics and automation, 3D printing, virtual reality and simulation, and emerging information management technologies are transforming industry nationally and throughout Iowa.

Industry 4.0 is here and Iowa, universities, community colleges and workforce agencies are investing in these advanced technologies to provide industry with resources to become more competitive, stay relevant and advance with the times — locally and globally.

Why Industry 4.0? It marks the fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by the application of information technologies and the digitalization of manufacturing. Today’s era builds upon: The third Industrial Revolution’s partial automation and computers; the second revolution’s introduction of electricity and assembly line production; and the steam power and mechanical production of the first revolution.

Industry 4.0 is influencing every industry including manufacturing, health care, construction, agriculture and any business relying on data, supply chain integration and cybersecurity. How will industries keep pace with emerging advancements in tech? Training.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Department of Education, the state’s 15 community colleges and Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa, along with other workforce agencies, formed a consortium to assist companies in their adoption of smart technologies, and to identify resources and grants available.

According to a 2021 study commissioned by the Iowa Innovation Council, nearly one-quarter of current work hours will be automated by 2030.

Management consulting firm Oliver Wyman also estimates that digitalization in the workplace — companies that integrated digital tools, workflows and approaches into every aspect of the business — have increased manufacturing productivity by 25% during the past 20 years.

In fact, the manufacturing industry alone might gain the most from brisk Industry 4.0 adoption or, alternatively, lose ground and market share from business-as-usual inaction.

The sector holds tremendous sway on Iowa’s economy. As the largest industry in the state, manufacturing generated more than $12 billion worth of exported goods and accounted for nearly 18% of state GDP last year.

Manufacturers in northeast Iowa, such as battery producer East Penn Manufacturing in Oelwein, are embracing Industry 4.0 to assist in workforce expansion, efficiency and productivity.

New ways to train employees on equipment use and maintenance will lead the way, according to LaTonya Holmes-Tucker, East Penn learning and development adviser.

“The expansion of our Oelwein distribution facility required that we embrace Industry 4.0 as the way forward. We designed and implemented a virtual reality training environment tied to specific department processes. It’s resulted in a reduction in the time it takes for the trainee to reach proficiency,” Holmes-Tucker said.

Resources and funding streams are available for businesses. Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) created a free assessment tool to measure a company’s capabilities and identify Industry 4.0 technologies that best align with its needs.

CIRAS also offers tours of its digital technology lab for local manufacturers and educators. A statewide Technology Investment Program offers grants to support manufacturing innovation equipment acquisition and Internet of Things (IoT) information infrastructure. The Industry 4.0 consortium and Future Ready Iowa provide manufacturers with a suite of best-in-class training programs to keep their workforce on the cutting edge of the industry.

Companies in every area of Iowa’s economy will grow and develop through their adoption of Industry 4.0.

Robotics, automation, virtual simulation training and emerging technologies have transformed the usual, traditional approaches and introduced to our economy a new, leaner and smarter way we work and compete.