By Thomas Lichtenberger, President, Festo Didactic, Inc.
Manufacturing is not dead - actually it’s just the opposite. Today advanced manufacturing is evolving so rapidly, thanks to Industry 4.0 innovations, that we’re on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 careers will require bright minds and brand new skillsets. To prepare today’s students and tomorrow’s workforce to program robots, work in smart factories, and attain other new, high-paying jobs (which already exist but are going unfilled due to the skills gap), we must dispel the outdated assumption that the manufacturing industry in the U.S. is antiquated and blue-collar.
Advanced manufacturing combines the real world of production with the virtual world of information and communication technology. Like the three industrial revolutions that preceded it (mechanization, mass production, and automation) Industry 4.0 will change how production happens as much as it will influence what consumers buy. More so than previous shifts, Industry 4.0 will usher in new heights of flexibility, agility, and efficiency for manufacturing.
It all starts with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), which allows machines to send and receive data to and from other machines as well as people. In this model, each factory and its components form part of a large network to create individual products to a high standard of quality. The practical applications of Industry 4.0 spotlight its benefits. Machines can speak directly to each other, which means plants can be more brand agnostic.
Big data is also at play as machines will now track and output data that can be used to create efficiencies or predict machine maintenance. For the consumer, Industry 4.0 means truly customized products will be cheaper to manufacture and cheaper to buy. Imagine being able to order a tailored suit jacket cheaper and faster than you can now!
For the workforce, the transition to Industry 4.0 means that just as two people might work together at a job site, employees must be able to collaborate with machines and robots in the future. These advancements in automation and the required new skillsets present a major cultural shift – one that employers are concerned about. According to a recent survey by PWC, 50 percent of employers said “lack of digital culture and training” is a top challenge in making the shift to Industry 4.0. As more companies such as General Electric, Boeing, Honeywell, and Caterpillar signal their shift to Industry 4.0, learning these advanced skills will become increasingly crucial for tomorrow’s graduates.
Unfortunately, many college degree and training programs do not instill in students the interdisciplinary competencies that will be required in a heavily digitized manufacturing environment. Today’s millennial and Gen Z students (and arguably the parents, guidance counselors, and other adults influencing them) view innovation as something that is mainly happening at mobile app companies and Silicon Valley startups rather than in the industrial sector. This commercial from General Electric is a great example of that attitude.
The faster we can adopt Industry 4.0 innovations and hire qualified men and women for careers in advanced manufacturing, the better positioned the U.S. will be to maintain its global economic competitiveness. But we can’t get there until there is a cultural shift from viewing career and technical education as second-rate. As more students take on mounting debt while entering lower paying industries, careers in advanced manufacturing (that have an average salary of $95,000) offer a promising future.
As countries such as China, Germany and Japan move ahead quickly to leverage advanced manufacturing technology in the global marketplace, it’s important that we (especially those of us in education) not glamorize apps that put “hats on cats” but instead encourage students to seize the economic opportunities that exist in modern manufacturing and develop innovations that truly change the world.
About Festo Didactic
Festo Didactic is a leading provider of technical education equipment and training. Festo’s educational solutions evolved from its world-class automation and engineering division and integrates the latest trends in each learning system it offers. The innovative product range from Festo allows educators and trainers to equip their classroom with the technology they need, from individual workstations to complete Learning Factories, as well as training and consulting, eLearning, courseware solutions, and LMS integration. For more information visit http://www.festo-didactic.com/int-en/
For more information, or to become a Festo Apprenticeship Program partner, please contact Corinne Haley at [email protected] or by telephone at 848-777-2009.