The future of manufacturing is here for the taking in Michigan

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly is executive director and CEO of Automation Alley, a technology and manufacturing business association representing 800 members in industry, academia and government.

Detroit’s story as a comeback city has been well documented over the past few years, as a growing number of innovative tech startups and small business owners transform the Motor City’s image into a hotbed for young talent with entrepreneurial grit across all industries.  

Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is indeed alive and well -- but what makes our area so unique is that we are not only home to the thinkers, but also the makers. It started with Henry Ford’s Model T and Michigan has never looked back. Manufacturing is in our DNA. And this unique combination of brains and muscle is what sets us apart from places like Silicon Valley, and what will ultimately help drive Detroit, and the entire state of Michigan, forward during a time of great technological change known as Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 -- or the fourth industrial revolution of connected, smart factories -- has created both immense opportunities and great challenges for manufacturers across the globe, as they rethink, retool and rebuild the way they do business. Think big data, the internet of things, the cloud, 3D printing, autonomous robotics, cyber security, artificial intelligence and so on. 

Michigan has an opportunity to lead the nation in the implementation of Industry 4.0 on our factory floors. Technology meccas like Silicon Valley have historically stayed away from manufacturing. Whenever you deal with physical things, either to make them or move them, it costs a lot more money and capital. Traditionally, the Valley has stayed in the world of information technology, which is much faster paced because information moves at the speed of light. However, Industry 4.0 changes that.

Industry 4.0 is attracting the attention of Silicon Valley investors whose argument is it doesn't matter where you make the product anymore, it matters where you design it. This is the threat our state is facing.

One of the advantages Michigan has is a rich supply chain of traditional manufacturers all the way from smaller suppliers to tier 1s and OEMs. Since Industry 4.0 can be characterized as manufacturing at the speed of information, this can be a great environment for Industry 4.0 technologies to be vetted. We have seen firsthand some traditional Michigan manufacturers innovating internally and deploying Industry 4.0 technologies, learning as they go. But these companies need help navigating this uncharted territory, and that’s where Automation Alley comes in.

Automation Alley is the Industry 4.0 knowledge center in Michigan, connecting industry, academia and government to fuel Michigan’s economy and accelerate innovation. From small tech startups to large OEMs, our goal is to help Michigan companies increase revenue, reduce costs and think strategically as they keep pace with rapid technological changes in manufacturing.

We understand that the key to our state’s success in Industry 4.0 is dependent on knowledge, not only for business owners, but also for a workforce that will need to be upskilled as jobs are replaced by automation. No one knows for certain what our nation’s employment landscape will look like in a decade, and while it’s easy to feel threatened by technology, we do know from history that innovation creates new types of jobs and the employment gains will far outweigh the losses as this wave of technology washes over us.

On Nov. 9 in Detroit, Automation Alley will be launching a global conference on Industry 4.0, titled Integr8™. The event is expected to attract 500 tech and manufacturing professionals from across the globe to discuss the disruption Industry 4.0 is creating on our factory floors, to uncover opportunities and to discuss blueprints for successful implementation of these new technologies. We encourage you to attend. No matter what industry you serve, the Industry 4.0 revolution will affect your business. And the future of Industry 4.0 belongs to those that are willing to invest time, talent and resources into implementing new technologies today.

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John Gorentz
Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:37pm

I came to this article hoping that finally I would read an article about Michigan that was not about Michigan government. No such luck.

The quest continues.

Chuck Fellows
Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:11am

Manufacturing Day October 6, 2017. Go to and become informed and participate.

Manufacturing is no longer dark, dirty, dangerous and dull. Unfortunately many with the cognitive abilities to thrive in Manufacturing 4.0 are deprived of the opportunity . Community Colleges control the gateway to skills training and their focus is on successful linear thinkers, not the outside the box, imaginative, innovative, eternally curious individuals needed to move manufacturing ahead.

In order to access training candidates must be able to demonstrate they will be successful in a four year college program by succeeding at the College Board's testing regimen. If not, they must take non credit remedial classes, the same classes they found boring and dull in secondary programs.

Follow the applicants strengths and the english and math deficiencies will be corrected through intrinsic motivation, not the sage on the stage

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