Automation is Reshaping Smart Manufacturing

Automation is Reshaping Smart Manufacturing


It doesn’t matter whether you call it advanced manufacturing, smart manufacturing, manufacturing 4.0, or some other variation on the same theme. Stated simply, manufacturers are increasingly integrating technologies like automation and data analytics into all aspects of how they do business. As these technologies transform the way manufacturing gets done, its leadership and workforce must change to keep pace.

From the C-suite to the factory floor, people who work in smart manufacturing need to be tech-savvy, especially when it comes to production automation and leveraging the huge volumes of data collected during the manufacturing process. This raw data becomes business intelligence that will be used to inform decision making from the shop floor to senior management. The challenge isn’t collecting or generating beautiful reports based on this data. The challenge is in transforming business intelligence into better, data-driven decision making across the entire organization. This takes human intelligence and agility too, as well as a great ERP system. As technology enables progress, people need to upskill and adapt.

Automation Has Forever Changed Manufacturing and Its Workforce

When you visit any modern factory, one that’s globally competitive and highly efficient, you see an interconnected, data-enabled automated system that requires a lot of technical savvy to operate. It doesn’t matter if the plant is building aircraft engines or solar panels – factories connect equipment, people, data, and more. And this interconnectedness goes well beyond the factory floor, into the supply chain, and far beyond. From a technology perspective, it takes integrated systems, like ERP, to make it all work together.

As manufacturers become more agile, so must the workforce.

Understanding how all the components interact (equipment, software and systems like ERP) is extremely important for anyone working in smart manufacturing. For instance, any would-be manufacturing leader needs the ability to make decisions quickly and with lots of available data, but also with a strong awareness of how the components interact, how one factor impacts another. At a basic level, this means that manufacturing leaders need technical know-how about the equipment, automation, data, and the subtleties of actually producing things. These demands make hiring and developing great manufacturing leaders and workers both complex and extremely important.

One result of accelerating technological change is that all smart manufacturing employees need to be quick learners capable of upskilling fast. The skills they’re using today may become obsolete in a few years, so having the capacity to develop the emerging skills they’ll need to support future manufacturing is key to career development. As manufacturers become more agile, so must the workforce.

As the next wave of tech takes over manufacturing, successful businesses will embrace advancements like 3D printing. 

Factories are Data-Enabled: the Manufacturing Workforce Must Follow

It’s easy to add a sensor to almost any piece of manufacturing equipment today, making it a “smart” machine that can transmit and receive data in real time. All of this data enables your team to make short and long-term process improvements. But this data opportunity also presents a massive analytical challenge: how can people working inside the organization differentiate the signal (the relevant data you want to identify and use) from all the noise (data you should ignore)?

Smart manufacturing will demand enhanced skill sets and some deep thinking by leaders and the workforce. Leaders must decide what data is most important (their KPIs) for their operations. What data should be your highest priority to collect, share, analyze, and base your decisions on? Having the right technology in place will be essential, and abas ERP is a great partner here as you integrate IoT into ERP, but you’ll also need smart people to analyze all this data and transform it into good decisions. The ongoing shift to smart manufacturing – blending smart technology (automation, IoT, etc.) and smart people – will translate into more efficiency, agility, and greater profitability for U.S. manufacturers.

Hiring People with the Right Skillset is a Growing Challenge

The challenge manufacturers face isn’t just hiring manufacturing professionals with the necessary skills in technologies, data analytics and manufacturing fundamentals. Unfortunately, not enough of those qualified professionals are available on the market, as every manufacturer knows. A Deloitte survey says that 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will go unfilled between now and 2025, a large gap. Moreover, attracting enough qualified people into the profession has become a major challenge, mostly because manufacturing has long had an image problem. Unjustified and traditional stigmas around the nature and stability of a manufacturing career have hurt the industry, though public perceptions may now be changing.

2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will go unfilled between now and 2025

The facts are clear: smart manufacturing is a high technology industry that needs top, tech-savvy talent in leadership and other roles. Manufacturing has become a leading implementer of modern technology, and the products today’s manufacturer’s make are often cutting-edge devices. People’s perceptions of manufacturing need to catch up with the high-tech realities of advanced manufacturing. According to, the highest paid (and among the fastest growing) job in U.S. manufacturing is "IT Manager,” with a median salary of over $80,000 per year. Smart manufacturing jobs are increasingly high paid and require tech skills.

How to Develop the Future Manufacturing Workforce

There are no easy solutions to the skills gap in U.S. manufacturing. Closing the gap will take a strong partnership approach between manufacturers, educational/academic institutions, and government entities. U.S. manufacturing associations, at the state and national levels, will need to coordinate and organize these collaborative efforts. For instance, manufacturers in Ohio should be working with in-state educational institutions and local governments to define what skills manufacturers need and help learners gain those skills and get hired.

Change isn’t coming, it’s already here. And just as technology is at the forefront of that change, manufacturing professionals will need to keep pace by developing new skills for new ways of manufacturing.

If you're interested in the Industry 4.0 and learning more about technology in smart manufacturing, consider downloading our ebook, Unbounded Manufacturing: How Industry 4.0 will Revolutionize Industrial Competition in the 21st Century