Nathan Scherer describes Industry 4.0 as “a lot more digitalization, automation and robotics.”
Manual work used to power workplaces, but that was before the industrial revolution introduced machinery to handle many processes. Then came the technology revolution. Now, 4.0 will tie all things together, said Scherer, the former owner of a metal fabrication company and now director of innovation with Patrick Industries.
“A lot of people look at manufacturing as what it was 30 years ago or even 40 years ago,” Scherer said in a telephone interview. “It's not just sitting at a machine and coordinating robots anymore.”
The long-time business executive is also a member of the Noble County Economic Development Corp., which this month announced plans to create an Industry 4.0 lab at the Community Learning Center in Kendallville. It's expected to be the first of its kind in the region and will train youth and adults for what's being called the fourth industrial revolution.
The first phase will include an Amatrol Smart Factory learning system, funded with a $472,094 grant from the Don Wood Foundation. Amatrol's Smart Factory learning systems are fully connected, flexible manufacturing systems that connect physical systems, operational information and human assets to control manufacturing, maintenance, inventory and supply chain operations, according to its website. The curriculum will cover “all aspects of smart factory maintenance and operation” in a self-directed, interactive format.
The Noble County Economic Development Corp. said manufacturing provides more than half of the total payroll in the county and offers jobs with average annual earnings of $50,000. The coalition of partners behind the lab anticipate between 800 and 1,200 individuals will be trained and certified in advanced robotics and industrial automation skills over the next decade, a news release said.
The partners include the Community Learning Center, Dekko Foundation, the Impact Institute and Freedom Academy. Meetings in late 2020 kicked off collaborative efforts to develop resources, plan spaces, and establish equipment and curriculum needs. Within a few months, the group was ready to support the learning center's grant proposal, the release said.
“Industry 4.0 directly aligns with our mission to impact lives and create career and college-ready students,” Jim Walmsley, director of the Impact Institute, said in a statement. “We foresee students having the ability to enter the workforce directly after completing a two-year high school program or be better prepared for their next educational step in this field.”
Plans are also underway for a Smart Technologies and Automation program starting for the 2022-2023 school year. Walmsley said it has the support of a Superintendent's Council that represents 13 area schools.
The Community Learning Center is a good location for the Industry 4.0 Lab because of existing collaboration and complementary programs, said Barry Rochford, strategic communications officer at the Dekko Foundation, which has provided capital and operational support to the center and moved its office there last year.
“It's a bit poetic,” Rochford said, “that the oldest section of the building, constructed in 1915, will house a high-tech lab for advanced manufacturing that promotes cutting-edge, 21st century skills.”
Community Learning Center Director Julia Tipton said the goal is to help people of all ages.
“We are also working with Noble County schools to offer robotics camps and other innovative experiences to help prepare the next generation,” she said.
Along with Career and Technical Education programs for high school students, the Industry 4.0 Lab will serve adults, including local manufacturing workers, through the Freedom Academy's evening and weekend courses.
“We have often been asked what is coming, what is needed?” said Melissa Carpenter, executive director at the Freedom Academy. “What is needed is that next level of training – and this is it. By having this equipment and training center in our own backyard, we will open a door for many.”
Scherer, who owned SEI Manufacturing in Cromwell, thinks youth will pick up on evolving technology applications fairly easily. Many students have worked with devices such as iPads that can be used for programming or been exposed to STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – programs.
“This is going to give them more of an ability to see what is done at a plant level in a manufacturing process than the bits and pieces they have seen before,” Scherer said of the 4.0 lab.
Some adults might have more of a learning curve, but Scherer said current manufacturing employees should embrace training. He doesn't think the latest workplace revolution has to prompt more early retirements among workers.
“I know plenty of people in their 80s that have iPads and iPhones,” Scherer said, adding that new systems can make tasks easier.
“Where we are adding automation, we are not looking to replace people,” Scherer said. “We figure if we can add technology and make the work easier, we can maybe keep people longer. The pain and strain on the worker typically goes down.”