Industry 4.0 Commonality Across Sectors

As Industry 4.0 technology advances, manufacturers should be open to importing talent from other sectors (retail, hospitality, health care and more) into the world of machining. The technologies in other sectors have more in common with ours than one might think.


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The technologies in other sectors have more in common with machining than one might think.

The technologies in other sectors have more in common with machining than one might think.

This is a column about the commonality of Industry 4.0 technology across industry sectors, and then it’s about how audio recognition technology is amazing, and then it’s about gauging your Industry 4.0 vocabulary. Prepare to learn a ton in just over 800 words.

At the request of a Midwestern community college, I recently participated in an event that proved fascinating. Assembled around the virtual conference room table were experts in cutting edge technology from across multiple economic sectors. Retail, insurance, distribution, manufacturing, hospitality, medical devices, heavy equipment, agriculture and other sectors were broadly represented.

A discussion about technology education ensued, the premise being that as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 technology advances there will continue to be an acute shortage of skilled technicians trained on the implementation and maintenance of smart technology. We are now living in a world of smart sensors and smart devices that can communicate with each other and make their own decisions, gathering hoards of data in real time, sending pertinent information to control systems and computer networks and then to the cloud where highly advanced data analytic algorithms and machine learning software make sense of the data and send it back to us in a form that can be used to drive continuous improvement. If this sounds confusing, you have some catching up to do. This is today’s reality of advanced machining technology.

The first conclusion of the group was that there is a high degree of similarity in how smart technology is disrupting their individual businesses. They all: see the effects of smart sensors and smart devices; utilize some form of a control system — in machining we call them computer numerical controls (CNCs) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs); use computers and networks; utilize some form of a customer relationship management software (in machining we call it CRM); use lean and continuous improvement practices (in machining we call it Kaizen); have an employee safety program; have a standardized quality system (in machining we call it ISO); have an integrated management system (in machining we call it ERP or MRP); use some form of data analytics for reliability (in machining we call it predictive analytics); and more. Based on the high correlation of technologies and systems, the group concluded that an employee with a base understanding of smart technology could efficiently transfer from sector to sector by learning how smart technology and systems manifest themselves in the individual sector’s base systems. As an example, if an technician understands how smart sensors, programmable controllers, computer networks, data collectors and data analytics are used in machining, by learning a bit about medical monitoring equipment that same person could transfer to a career in health care. Fascinating!

But, for me, it got even more fascinating. With the permission of the attendees, the host college recorded the entire discussion. Following the meeting, one of the college’s team members utilized Microsoft Azure Software to analyze the meeting. He was literally able to ask the software to tell him what Industry 4.0 terms were mentioned most often by the attendees. The software utilized audio analytics technology and produced the desired data. The result is a glossary of the terms with which manufacturers should be familiar as they plan for the future of their operations. What a priceless list.

Data analytics and related terms ruled the day. It’s time to get familiar with databases, SQL, process analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning, if you’re not already.

Connectivity and networking expressions came next. Cybersecurity, network security, internet protocols, the fog and the cloud were all high on the list.

Control systems and process control remain key facets of Industry 4.0. These expressions, along with programming, coding, access control, SCADA, proportional integral control, access control, motor control, temperature and flow control along with process monitoring, all received frequent mention.

I was heartened to see my theory proven that base industrial success skills — such as troubleshooting, blueprint reading, standardized quality, continuous improvement, safety, measurement, ISO and QS — are still key skills and competencies for those working across many economic sectors.

Finally, and not surprising, Industry 4.0 technology ranked high. Smart sensors, smart devices, telematics, robotics, automation and automated guided vehicles are key technologies that the group saw as integral to the future of their businesses.

So, three takeaways: First, as Industry 4.0 technology advances, be open to porting talent from other sectors (retail, hospitality, health care and more) into the world of machining. The technologies in other sectors have more in common with ours than one might think. Second, audio recognition technology is really slick. I didn’t even know it existed in this form until the meeting host demonstrated it. Finally, if you’re not familiar with the Industry 4.0 terms noted above, get going. This technology is already revolutionizing the machining sector.

About the Author

Matt Kirchner

Matt Kirchner is managing director of Profit360 LLC, a Wisconsin-based strategic advisor to U.S. manufacturers and is president of LAB Midwest LLC, a provider of education and workforce training.