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Friday, July 22 2016

Whitley Manufacturers Prepare for 4th Industrial Revolution



The first Industrial Revolution harnessed water and steam power. The second involved mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth will involve the discovery of important ways to use new technologies, and put more familiar technologies to new uses.

A group of Indiana academics has started assisting an effort by economic development officials in Whitley County to help its manufacturers embrace the sweeping changes that are coming so they can be among the first to benefit from them.

The fourth revolution will build on the third, and crucial aspects of the fourth are expected to unfold so quickly that being caught asleep at the wheel will have serious consequences for a nation’s status in the world.

The U.S. Department of Defense already requires its prime contractors to prepare for the fourth revolution by adopting digital manufacturing technology. Bob Goosen said more industries can expect similar requirements.

Goosen is associate director of engineering and technology services for Purdue University’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. “I can foresee in the not-too-distant future this becoming a standard for the automotive industry and the aerospace industry,” he said.

In those industries, original equipment manufacturer suppliers adopting digital manufacturing technologies “will become preferred suppliers,” he said. “And those who don’t will run the risk of being left behind.”

The Whitley County Economic Development Corp. was looking for ways to prepare manufacturers there for the fourth revolution when it learned Nathan Hartman, professor and associate head of computer graphics technology at Purdue Polytechnic Institute, had a National Institute of Standards and Technology grant to study digital manufacturing technology adoption.

Hartman also directs Purdue’s Product Lifecycle Management Center of Excellence and he is an executive committee member of Indiana’s Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center.

When the Whitley EDC found out what he was doing, it asked him, the partnership and the competitiveness center to provide a seminar explaining to manufacturers in the county what was ahead for them with digital manufacturing and the fourth revolution.

The session would poll manufacturer interest in the subject and in any assistance available to help them adopt digital manufacturing technology, said Bruce Stach, small business and entrepreneurship program manager for the EDC.

The goal was to “give the companies what I call a sustainable competitive advantage,” Stach said. Adopting digital manufacturing technology will enable manufacturers in the county “to compete to win contracts, which will then improve the economy because they will employ more people,” he said.

It is important to the county, he said, because manufacturers employ 40 percent of its workforce, and pay 55 percent of its wages.


Here is how digital manufacturing works:

Radio frequency identification chips and RFID chip readers are used to continuously track the location of pallets of parts, materials and the completed product.

Other industrial sensors gather data on what is happening at each step of a manufacturing process and all the data is fed into a system, which uses it to optimize every function related to the process, from ordering parts and materials to shipping finished goods.

Digital representations of the product are used instead of blueprints to ensure everything is set to go where it needs to in seconds. The data is interpreted precisely by production equipment that does not need a human operator to complete the process.

In addition to monitoring what is happening and suggesting real time solutions to inefficiencies as soon as they start to develop, data analytics are used to forecast problems and when they will happen. It recommends a variety of preventative measures, such as adding people at a particular point in the process or fine tuning it in other ways.

Sophisticated models can be integrated with the system to run simulations, which will show how one change in part of a production process unique to a particular plant “will affect the other parts upstream and downstream,” Goosen said.

“It allows managers to make optimal business decisions, depending on the changes they put into one part of the model.”

Manufacturers have used the German software company SAP’s enterprise resource planning software to accomplish some of this automation for a long time. But, newer ERP systems are considerably faster than they were 15 years ago and a number of capabilities have been added to them.

For example, modeling software that used to be stand-alone can now be fully integrated into ERP systems, Goosen said. The systems also work well with industrial 3D printing or a technologically similar additive manufacturing process.

In some cases, manufacturering processes can be set up as cyber-physical systems, which use computer-based algorithms to optimize themselves as needed.

With the improvements that have been added through the years, ERP systems “have been able to reduce production cycle times by orders of magnitude, going from weeks for making a product or prototype to a matter of hours,” Goosen said.

But, perhaps the greatest benefit of digital manufacturing technology adoption, he said, is it positions an operation to capitalize on breakthroughs in industrial technology as soon as they are proven to provide a competitive advantage.

Whitley survey for improvement

The survey of about 40 manufacturing employers in Whitley County was taken by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center so that the organizations could customize digital manufacturing workshops to suit employer needs.

It was conducted following a June seminar where the organizations explained the nature and benefits of digital manufacturing to the county’s manufacturers at the request of the Whitley County Economic Development Corp. Participants had a July 15 deadline to respond to the survey.

Some of the responses could lead to assessments by the partnership of manufacturers there interested in receiving individual help as they begin to adopt digital manufacturing technology or prepare to expand their adoption of it, Goosen said.

“We’re sort of breaking new ground. We do have plans once we have gone through the first phase of surveys and assessments with Whitley County to start working with other EDCs in others parts of the state and manufacturers to help them with digital manufacturing adoption,” he said. “We have had a couple of contacts from other EDCs that have expressed interest in this.”

Based on first impressions from the June seminar, Goosen said he would not be surprised if the survey produced a broad variety of responses, from manufacturers with a great deal of digital manufacturing technology experience to those that have yet to start exploring it.

Manufacturers or economic development organizations interested in more information on digital manufacturing technology can contact Goosen at or (317) 388-5128.

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Writer: Doug LeDuc, ,

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