Posted on 10/30/2018

Why Michigan’s next governor needs to make Industry 4.0 a priority

Tom Kelly

As with any election year, there’s no shortage of topics vying for attention in Michigan -- and they are all important to the citizenry: roads and infrastructure, K-12 education, healthcare coverage and protection of the Great Lakes, just for starters. What’s not being talked about enough, though, is the seismic shift known as Industry 4.0 taking place in manufacturing - Michigan’s crown jewel of industry leadership.

Industry 4.0, dubbed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ following agriculture, the assembly line and computers, encompasses manufacturing digitization in its broadest sense. The eight core technologies of Industry 4.0 are: the Industrial Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, Big Data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, advanced materials and additive manufacturing, and modeling, simulation, visualization and immersion. Many of these terms may sound familiar on their own, but collectively they represent the undercurrent of change ripping through manufacturing, from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their vast supply chain, to the defense industry, consumer products makers and other nonautomotive manufacturers that play a crucial role in Michigan’s increasingly diverse manufacturing economy.

Industry 4.0 is non-partisan. Both Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have acknowledged and acted on its significance. Yet Industry 4.0 is a relative newcomer to the Michigan vernacular and it’s during the next four years that Industry 4.0 will truly take off. Regardless of who wins the gubernatorial election on Nov. 6, Michigan is poised to win the manufacturing marketplace as Industry 4.0 leaders if it is viewed as a state-wide priority. We have the engineering smarts, the universities, the digital capabilities and the manufacturing prowess and history of success that makes other states -- and nations -- pay attention.

Far beyond Michigan borders, the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum, Germany, Korea and India in particular have taken notice of what Automation Alley is doing as Michigan’s Industry 4.0 Knowledge Center. As an 800-plus non-profit member organization, we’ve launched sweeping programming efforts to bring diverse industry players to the table and instill a sense of urgency among Michigan manufacturers of all sizes. That will culminate in our second annual Integr8 global Industry 4.0 conference and Smart Technology Expo in Detroit on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

At the time of the Integr8 conference, the election will be over. What will be starting, though, is a new look at key issues facing Michigan in the next four years -- and Industry 4.0 should be at the top of the list from a business perspective, lest we lose out to Silicon Valley or other upstarts.

On Sept. 19, I was privileged to moderate the Community Dinner event in Tianjin, China; it was part of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions, a global experience that addresses today’s intertwined global challenges relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I learned that the world is moving very fast and, as a state made up of world class manufacturing organizations, Michigan must move even faster.

With that in mind, I ask that Michigan’s next state leadership team consider two key takeaways summarized by the World Economic Forum following the China event that relate the role government can play in supporting Industry 4.0:

New ways of collaboration are required to ensure the successful implementation of sustainable manufacturing technologies, and these collaboration efforts can be led by governments at a local or regional level. Regions and cities can lead the change to adopt new sustainable technologies and innovate and lead the transformation. To succeed, the public sector needs to lead the clusters and offer incentives to enable technology deployment.

Interaction between start-ups, SMEs, academia, industry and government needs to improve. The sources of innovation are universities and start-ups more often than large companies. Finding creative partnership models between companies and the aforementioned players is necessary. …Meanwhile, governments need to assume a role that generates the best conditions to ensure the smoothest possible transition towards advanced manufacturing.

About the Author

Tom Kelly | Automation Alley

As executive director and CEO of Automation Alley, Michigan’s leading technology and manufacturing business association, Tom Kelly oversees strategic planning and all ongoing activities for the organization on behalf of its 800 members across Southeast Michigan, including programs and services designed to help businesses succeed in the era of Industry 4.0.


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Molly E. Green

Marsh & McLennan Agency

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