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Published in Manufacturing

MEDC makes new Industry 4.0 push with partnerships, $3M investment

BY Sunday, April 11, 2021 07:00pm

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is making a new push to place Michigan manufacturers ahead of the curve on Industry 4.0 technology.

The MEDC has formed partnerships with Troy-based Industry 4.0 knowledge center Automation Alley and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC) in addition to devoting $3 million to fund two Industry 4.0-focused proposals that were submitted to state officials at the end of 2020.

“A year and a half ago, we launched a strategic plan that was built around making sure Michigan had the fastest growing, most equitable and most resilient economy in the country,” said Josh Hundt, executive vice president and chief business development officer with the MEDC.

“We launched a signature initiative specifically tied to advanced manufacturing that we knew we needed to win as a state in order for us to continue to be a leading state for businesses to choose to locate and be able to to grow,” he added. “We recognize that making investments in Industry 4.0 technology is what will allow our small to medium sized manufacturers to be in front of other states.”

The two proposals the MEDC submitted to the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) board in December focused on turning manufacturers from all corners of the state on to the idea of Industry 4.0 technology and practices.

The MEDC sought $2 million from the MSF to solicit regional grant proposals from eligible organizations that were interested in increasing Industry 4.0 awareness and readiness for local manufacturers.

Cities, townships, counties, business advocates, economic development organizations and other entities were eligible to submit these grant proposals. In the coming months, a Joint Evaluation Committee will bring the recommendations for award winners to the MSF board for final approval.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to complement the work that MMTC and Automation Alley are doing to ensure that we recognize that perhaps there are different needs in different corners of the state and we can have additional programming and support at a highly localized level through these regional grants,” Hundt said.

Another component to the MEDC’s Industry 4.0 effort is a $1 million marketing push executed through global advertising agency McCann Erickson.

Strategic partners

The MEDC has joined forces with two organizations that have long been on the frontlines of connecting statewide manufacturers with Industry 4.0 information and solutions. 

Automation Alley isn’t just Michigan’s Industry 4.0 knowledge center, but also is designated by the World Economic Forum  as one of only 12 Advanced Manufacturing Hubs in the world and the only one in North America.

Normally carrying a membership that hovers around 1,000 manufacturers — most of which are concentrated in the southeast portion of the state — Automation Alley is now extending free memberships to all 12,000 manufacturers throughout Michigan as part of its partnership with the MEDC.

“We’ve always had 1,000 members, give or take, but now we’re putting it on massive steroids where anyone in the state that is a manufacturer now gets this free membership and access to all of our proprietary content,” said Tom Kelly, executive director and CEO of Automation Alley.

This arsenal of content contains everything from white papers on various Industry 4.0 concepts to seminars and roundtables. Kelly said that membership officially opened to all manufacturers in October, but the organization is only now making a push to raise awareness.

Kelly said that putting state dollars behind the Industry 4.0 effort is crucial. He pointed to the fact that all countries competing for manufacturing leadership have Industry 4.0 policies set in place at a federal level, creating a race to digitize.

“If I’m a small manufacturer, I’m focused every day, hair on fire, on getting product out the door — I don’t have time to focus on all this stuff,” Kelly said. “What the state resources bring is a way for us to reach all these manufacturers and really help them understand what financial choices they need to make to keep up with the pace of change. It’s really existential for manufacturers.” 

The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center — with headquarters in Plymouth and bureaus located throughout the state, including in Grand Rapids — is also a heavily utilized resource for advanced manufacturing technology and processes.

Industry 4.0 assessments are one of the many resources that the MMTC provides for manufacturers and one of the more effective methods of getting manufacturers to engage with Industry 4.0 ideas and concepts.

These assessments are free through the state and require two to three hours of company time to complete.

“They spend maybe an hour or hour and a half to collect data, and we analyze it, walk the shop floor, ask some more questions and that’s really what we do … and the state picks up the tab,” said MMTC President Mike Coast. “These are feeders to get companies to buy into (Industry 4.0). At the end we say here’s the report, and a summary that tells them this is what they need to get going.”

MMTC often reveals that manufacturers can make technological upgrades to existing equipment instead of having to invest in new equipment. The assessments also highlight how eliminating waste through lean manufacturing processes can ultimately fund upgrades.

“Most people think there are a lot of dollars involved with upgrading to this technology,” said Bob Lyscas, COO of MMTC. “(The assessment) shows them the lean waste that is sitting out there that can finance putting technology in place. You can also spin it in a way that (Industry 4.0) is benefiting everyone, including the fact that it upskills workers.”

Targeting small companies

These latest efforts zero in on small to medium sized manufacturers for a reason. The MEDC’s Hundt noted that just 13 percent of small to medium sized manufacturers across the country have implemented Industry 4.0 technologies.

Kelly from Automation Alley called the Industry 4.0 movement crucial to survival for small and medium manufacturers.

“This program was really derived to educate the smalls and help them come on board with the change,” Kelly said. “The Fords and GMs of the world are smart and have a lot of money. They’ll figure it out on their own — they don’t need our help necessarily. But they do need our help to get the small supply chain to come along with them otherwise they’ll just go around them.”

The MEDC and its partnering organizations are focused on getting 50 percent of small to medium sized manufacturers in Michigan ready to adopt Industry 4.0 technology by 2025.

“When you take a look at the small manufacturing companies, they’re really 90 percent of all manufacturers in the state of Michigan and that’s a stat that runs across the entire nation,” Coast said. “That’s where the backbone of the entire industry is.”

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