Automation Alley to create Industry 4.0 roadmap
Research to be carried out by local colleges and industry
Report will be released in April
Automation Alley is creating a roadmap for where the automotive industry's largest players are headed and how the entire supply chain can adopt tomorrow's manufacturing technologies.
The Troy-based business association plans to release a study on Industry 4.0, the idea that we are in a fourth industrial revolution in which the internet and automation transforms manufacturing, on April 30 at an event at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The Automation Alley study is being conducted by several education institutions across the state in partnership with industry leaders. The participants include: University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University, Central Michigan University, Oakland University, Baker College, Macomb Community College and Oakland Community College, along with Ford Motor Co., Comau, Siemens PLM, Eaton and Trumpf, among others.
"We need to create a roadmap of where the bigs (automakers and large tier suppliers) are going and use that information to create actionable items so the entire ecosystem can adjust and know where to focus their efforts," said Tom Kelly, executive director of Automation Alley. "This report will hopefully get everyone on the same page, which is incredibly important, because Industry 4.0 is the antithesis to the siloed thinking this region is used to."
The research will focus on eight core technologies defined in Industry 4.0:
The challenge for the industry is that as the Fords and Lears and BorgWarners of the world continue to become more technologically advanced on the factory floor, their supply base won't be able to function within that framework.
Tom Kelly, executive director, Automation Alley: Manufacturing is changing fast.
"The world (of manufacturing) is changing so fast, we can't assume any company really knows where it's headed," Kelly said. "But based on what's possible, we hope to help them turn this into action instead of stagnation."
Industry 4.0, otherwise called the fourth industrial revolution after mechanization, the assembly line and robotics, is a megatrend in manufacturing centered on the "smart factory" — using the internet and cloud computing to make decentralized decisions and create communication among machines, workers and the factory systems. This connectivity is designed to improve efficiency, quality and profits.
According to a 2015 survey on Industry 4.0 by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 72 percent of industrial companies surveyed expect to achieve a high level of digitization by 2020, compared to the 33 percent that said they already accomplished that level of digitization. Manufacturers expect to reduce operational costs by 3.6 percent while increasing efficiency by 4.1 percent annually through 2020 by using Industry 4.0 technologies and methodologies, according to the survey.
The report is also designed to elevate Automation Alley's reputation among the industry. When Kelly was promoted to lead the organization in August 2016, he tasked Automation Alley with growing from a local networking facilitator to global think tank for the industry.
Automation Alley was created by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson in 1999, led by deputy county executive of Oakland County Ken Rogers at the time, who left his job at the end of 2014 to run the organization full time. Kelly joined Automation Alley in April 2014 as its director of entrepreneurship before becoming its COO in 2015.
"When we built Automation Alley, we were more passive. ... Our strong membership viewed us as a place to meet and collaborate with other members. We want to be a place that helps them run their business," Kelly told Crain's in 2016. "Now that we have depth and scale, we think we're mature enough to drive what the industry should be focused on. We can put our flag in the ground and say we should focus on new automation because change is coming ... rapidly."
Kelly said the new report will serve as Automation Alley's first benchmark on whether it can achieve that goal.
"Most of what we do, organizations like ours, is create a lot of information that we never turn into actual plans for the ecosystem," he said. "It's a heavy lift, and it will arc for many years, but we're going to try this. We need to be judged on whether we can create actionable intelligence. We need a center, particularly one based in Michigan, that is an agitator for all that is possible in manufacturing and we want to be that place where these companies go to get that knowledge and shift into action."