It’s no secret that industries of all kinds are battling a serious supply and demand issue. Due to advancing technology and increasing use of automation, employers need more highly-skilled workers than ever before.
Unfortunately, the supply of workers with the advanced technical and technological skills employers need isn’t keeping pace. This well-known problem is known as the “skills gap.” It’s been a problem for a while now, and experts believe it will only get worse in the near future.
What employers need are workers with advanced “connected systems” skills that will help them operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair the automation equipment becoming commonplace in facilities that have adopted new Industry 4.0 technologies.
To date, however, industry and educators alike have been missing the key to solve this skills gap: a set of industry-defined and industry-validated standards that clearly define the skills workers will need to succeed in the jobs of the present and future.
Providing that missing link was the guiding vision behind the creation of the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA). In a recent webinar (“SACA Webinar”) hosted by Matt Kirchner, President of Lab Midwest, representatives of several major manufacturers spoke about their role in the development of SACA’s Industry 4.0 skill standards, as well as how those standards are now guiding their training and education efforts.
SACA’s Vision for Industry 4.0 Certifications
Why are SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications so valuable? They speak to the in-demand skills that employers across the country — and across the globe — need so desperately.
Not only do the nation’s educational institutions need to build a pipeline of skilled talent to supply employers with the highly-skilled workers they need now and in the future, but incumbent workers also need training to learn the new skills they need to work with the advanced Industry 4.0 automation systems taking over modern manufacturing facilities.
But what are those skills? That’s the key question, and answering that question is what brought SACA into existence. According to SACA’s Executive Director, Jim Wall:
“SACA’s vision from the beginning was to develop a system that’s based upon industry-developed, industry-validated standards that truly define the competencies, performance indicators, and knowledge indicators that are required of individuals to succeed in the world of Industry 4.0.”
To turn that vision into reality, SACA relied upon a wide variety of companies, educational institutions, and organizations to develop, review, and test SACA certification standards. Experts from well-known industry leaders, such as Rockwell Automation, FANUC, Ashley Furniture, Kohler, Foxconn, Boeing, and Hershey, were instrumental in making sure SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications reflect the competencies that industry needs.
Industry 4.0 is Here to Stay
Several of the industry representatives who shared stories during the SACA Webinar spoke about the changes that Industry 4.0 technologies have wrought and how their companies have been forced to respond.
Al Doty, Advanced Manufacturing Chief Engineer for Harley-Davidson, Inc., revealed that automation has been key to his company maintaining a competitive edge. Not only do new technologies improve efficiency and reduce costs, but Doty noted that employees also expect the company to adopt and use the best technologies available, so that they can perform their jobs more effectively and maintain a positive work-life balance.
Specific new technologies being adopted include advanced robotics and digital twins, according to Scott Theune, President of Plexus. Digital twins are realtime digital counterparts that allow workers to troubleshoot equipment virtually.
In addition to improving efficiency, these new technologies also play a critical role in making manufacturing facilities safer. Improved safety has been a big benefit as industry growth and the skills gap has spurred the need for more automation, noted Andrew Martin, Senior Director of Manufacturing for Generac.
Leaders throughout industry agree: Industry 4.0 is here to stay. According to Michael DeBroux, Senior Mechanical & Automation Engineer and Engineering Supervisor of Greenheck Fan Corporation, “We need to make sure that we are getting personnel and new talent into our company that speaks modern manufacturing languages and is familiar with Industry 4.0 fundamentals.”
OT and IT are Converging in Industry 4.0
According to an i-SCOOP article, “It’s impossible to talk about the evolutions in manufacturing, industrial transformation and Industry 4.0, innovations in areas such as Industrial IoT without mentioning the convergence of IT and OT.”
Historically, operational technology (OT) has referred to “a category of computing and communication systems to manage, monitor and control industrial operations with a focus on the physical devices and processes they use.”
Information technology (IT), on the other hand, “is about business and enterprise systems that store, process and deliver information.” Because Industry 4.0 technologies are becoming more and more commonplace throughout traditional OT equipment, cybersecurity becomes more critical every year.
According to Jim Molter, IT Manager – Smart Factory Deployment of Kohler Co., “Industry 4.0 is forcing us to break down those silos and start to learn to work together…that’s where we’re headed. There’s not going to be a distinction [between OT and IT] anymore.”
Educational Institutions Play a Key Role in Preparing Industry 4.0 Workers
When experts evaluate strategies for bridging the skills gap, it’s clear that educational institutions must play a key role in preparing students for Industry 4.0 careers. But can they do it alone?
The answer is no. Educational institutions must partner with industry counterparts to ensure that the knowledge and skills they’re teaching will produce students with the valuable skills that industries around the country need.
Anne Troka, Community Engagement Manager for Sargento Foods Incorporated, explains a successful approach she helped to develop called Manufacturing 4.0:
“We started conversations with…four schools and four businesses [to] build a partnership to help students — our future workforce — connect with our businesses to really get skills that we need and skills that the students will need…to make them employable in a variety of different careers, because Manufacturing 4.0 is in manufacturing as well as many other industries.”
To date, the partnership has helped to design and build five courses to prepare students for Industry 4.0 careers, including subject areas like mechatronics, industrial controls, robotics, and the Internet of Things. Eventually, students will also be able to earn SACA certifications related to their coursework. In this way, “we’re really connecting education to [career] success,” concludes Troka.
Industry 4.0 Also Requires Upskilling Current Employees
Unfortunately, employers can’t wait for the next generation of highly-skilled workers to emerge from high school or college. As Anthony Ebio, Director of Industry 4.0 Learning for Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., noted, schools simply aren’t “cranking out the learning and the students fast enough.”
That’s why Ashley Furniture has invested heavily in upskilling its current employees so that they have the advanced skills they need to work with new Industry 4.0 technologies. Ebio noted that they used SACA certifications as a guide when setting up training for incumbent workers: “We found ourselves leveraging a lot of the SACA structure to make sure that we have [curriculum] to support Industry 4.0.”
Other companies are following suit. Ken Evans, Associate Maintenance Manager for S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., noted that S.C. Johnson has partnered with Gateway Technical College to upskill its employees with an eye toward achieving SACA certifications.
So far both young and older employees have been excited about the prospect of learning and gaining new skills. Plus, using SACA certifications as a guide has allowed current employees to see a payoff for their hard work quickly. According to Evans, “under SACA, [current employees] can get incremental steps of recognition and be proud of it, and we’re proud of them.”
SACA Brings It All Together
If the current skills gap plaguing industries across the world is to be bridged, strategic partnerships between industry and educational institutions must be forged. Schools must begin to produce a pipeline of highly-skilled workers ready to work in an Industry 4.0 environment.
Likewise, industry must upskill its current workforce with the advanced skills needed to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair the Industry 4.0 automation technologies taking over the factory floor.
According to Michael Cook, Director of Global Academic Partnerships for Platinum SACA Sponsor Rockwell Automation, Inc., “no one company can really do this alone…SACA is providing significant leadership here…ensuring that there’s a close fidelity between the academic space as well as what we find relevant in industry. That alignment is a significant part of what SACA brings.”
To learn more about Industry 4.0 certifications and how SACA can help both educational institutions and industry employers begin the task of bridging the Industry 4.0 skills gap, visit the SACA website and then contact SACA for more information.
What types of products do you buy online? Today, the answer to that question for many people is just about anything and everything. Things haven’t always been that way, though.
In the earliest days of e-commerce, consumers got their feet wet in the online marketplace purchasing products that were known quantities that could be shipped safely and cheaply. More personal items, such as clothing and shoes, retained a foothold in brick-and-mortar stores where customers could try things on to ensure a good fit.
Fast forward to today and it’s easy to see how drastically e-commerce has changed the retail landscape. Some people now purchase all of their goods exclusively online. There are still certain areas, though, where e-commerce has been slow to gain traction. For example, the food industry has yet to replace a trip to the grocery store with an online experience…until recently.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed much about how we live our lives, including that once-simple trip to the grocery store. Now, more and more people are doing their grocery shopping online or via a smartphone app and having their groceries delivered directly to their car at the store.
As a result, the food industry finds itself in need of a transformation to respond to changing realities driven by consumer demand. Experts believe that transformation will come through a variety of new smart manufacturing technologies.
Consumer Demand Driving Changes
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, no one fully understood the ways in which our lives would change over the course of the coming months. Routine, everyday tasks, such as shopping for groceries, were suddenly fraught with the potential for exposure to the deadly virus.
Retail grocers were faced with simultaneously managing intense supply chain disruptions that left many shelves bare and customers who wanted as little contact with other shoppers as possible. The solution for many was to pair online shopping (often via an app) with curbside delivery.
Shopping for food online was a new experience for most customers. It didn’t take long, however, for most people to figure out that they could compare prices across various stores just like they would for any other online purchase.
The effect of these changes on the food industry has been significant. As author Katy Askew notes in a recent FoodNavigator article, the food industry is being forced “to rapidly adapt their processes and products to keep up with changing markets” resulting from “elevated consumer expectations.”
Smart Manufacturing to the Rescue
How can food and beverage companies keep up with these rapid changes? Askew spoke with Andrew Smith, Regional Segment Leader – Process & Packaging OEMs at Rockwell Automation, which recently became a Platinum Member of the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA).
According to Smith, “To remain competitive, food and beverage manufacturing systems must optimize productivity and perform at the highest standard. This requires comprehensive and continuous operations improvement.” Increasingly, the food industry is turning to smart manufacturing to achieve those goals.
Smith believes in the potential of smart manufacturing:
“Connected, information-enabled manufacturing – or smart manufacturing – can make all the difference. New technologies are helping food and beverage manufacturers better understand and use their food processing operations. Smart manufacturing can help improve asset utilization, increase yield, drive workforce productivity, optimize resource management, and mitigate security risks.”
Not convinced yet? Smith points to Hillshire Brands as a prime example of what smart manufacturing can do. After the company began using a manufacturing intelligence system at a Texas plant, “the food manufacturer reduced inedible product and waste goals to 0.8% – saving about 5.5 million corn dogs per year.”
Technologies Changing the Game
The impact of smart technologies is not lost on the average person today. Whether it’s the smartphone in your hand or the smart thermostat keeping your home the perfect temperature, nearly every aspect of life has been impacted by advances in technology
Modern manufacturers are no exception, including food and beverage companies. According to Smith, “New developments in technology are redefining food and beverage manufacturing. By combining the Internet of Things, wireless and mobile technologies, data analytics, and network infrastructure, companies can access and act on the data from their operations before a potential problem arises.”
Askew notes in her article that Smith identified five advanced technologies he believes will drive greater adoption of smart manufacturing technologies in the food industry:
Flexible manufacturing focuses on how quickly a company can adapt to change. As Matt Graves and Rachel Wilson explain in an article on the Rockwell Automation blog, “It’s about creating a seamless flow from need to delivery. True flexibility empowers manufacturers to stay in tune with their market, by replacing rigid and static operating models with levels of control and responsiveness never previously thought possible.”
When it comes to integrating new technologies, though, the authors stress that companies must not forget about the people using those technologies:
“When it comes to embracing Industry 4.0, integration between departments is key. While new technology can bring data and systems together, getting your people to communicate/collaborate is just as important – and absolutely essential if you want to gain the maximum return on investment.”
As Askew notes in her article, “Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that allows users to view and interact with real-world environments through computer generated superimposed images. It enables workers to perform better and avoid safety and compliance risks by providing easy access to the information they need online.”
In smart manufacturing, companies use AR to help technicians troubleshoot problems in real time. For example, maintenance personnel can use an AR app on a smartphone or tablet to zero in on exactly what component of a machine may be malfunctioning and develop a solution more quickly, thereby reducing equipment downtime.
The heart of smart manufacturing is the collection, processing, analysis, and application of the tremendous amounts of data (sometimes called “big data”) generated by the production process. According to Askew, companies will use “powerful machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics software to offer predictive and prescriptive maintenance.”
Practically, this means that machines equipped with smart sensors can monitor their own performance. Technicians will receive alerts from machines when maintenance needs are imminent, allowing them to maintain and repair equipment before breakdowns occur, thereby reducing downtime and increasing productivity.
A Rockwell Automation article explains edge computing in this way:
“Edge computing combines a machine’s control and computing hardware into one platform, either with a controller that has a built-in computer or with a computing module that sits on the same rack as the controller. With this two-in-one approach, you can put all your machine’s digital content — such as custom code, the controller’s human-machine interface (HMI) application and any third-party software programs — right where the controller resides, rather than in another location. This creates inherent benefits for end users, including space savings and access to data right at its source. But it also creates new opportunities for you to build entirely new solutions for production applications.”
According to Askew, “Edge computing will complement existing cloud infrastructure by enabling real-time data processing where work is done (for example, motors, pumps, generators, or other sensors). Implementing integrated analytics from the edge to the cloud will help these companies maximize the value of investments in digital systems.”
Digital Twin/Digital Thread
In addition to augmented reality apps, companies are also using advanced digital tools to assist with troubleshooting, such as digital twins and the Digital Thread. According to Askew, a digital twin is “the collection of data created in software representing a real-life system. Machines, controllers, processes, workflow, and any other aspect of a system can be represented digitally, without any interruption to ongoing activities.”
Similar to a digital twin, the Digital Thread “creates a virtual representation of how data travels within a company. The Digital Thread enables supervisory enhancements throughout the supply chain, including delivery of work instructions to operators, quality control sampling, and automated activation of components and materials from vendors, suppliers, and partners”
What can these technologies do for the food industry? Askew paints an interesting view of a future that’s probably a lot closer than we think:
“In the near future, we will see that by interconnecting business systems through the Digital Thread, companies will practically start up new production lines. Using the digital twins, manufacturers will run machines virtually before parts are ordered, discover control issues before support personnel review them, predict future performance challenges and opportunities, simulate line changes to stay keep up with changing customer demands, and will train new staff in non-stop systems of activity.”
SACA Certifications Validate Industry 4.0 Skills
Employees in the food and beverage industry would do well to complement their current skillset with advanced Industry 4.0 skills that will help them change and grow with advances in technology. For those workers wanting to specialize in Industry 4.0 technologies, the certifications offered by the Smart Automation Certification Alliance are a great place to start. SACA offers industry-standard certifications that focus on “connected systems” skills. To learn more about the different types of SACA certifications, visit SACA online.