Flint, MI— Manufacturers with under 500 employees can now take advantage of a new program aimed at determining their readiness for technologies like robotics, 3D printing, and cloud computing, as well as preparing the manufacturing workforce to adopt them.

“Industry 4.0 is this kind of confluence of digital technologies that are going to allow manufacturers to be a lot more efficient, using big data to predict when they’re going to need materials, tracking the materials with RFI technologies, using robotics that can move materials or manufacture things, and putting this all together so that processes are safer, more efficient, more timely,” said Tyler Rossmaessler, the executive director of Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance, which is partnering with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and several other organizations to jumpstart the initiative.

The year-long initiative began in late July, and the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance have already had a couple of dozen manufacturers sign up.

Rossmaessler said the program is open to a variety of small to medium-sized manufacturers including automotive, food and beverage, and agricultural industries.

“It could be really anyone that has processes that need to be improved,” Rossmaessler said.

Rossmaessler added that there is no cap on the number of manufacturers that can participate, though the Flint & Genesee Economic Alliance wants to have the majority of the readiness surveys which serve as sign-ups for the initiative returned before the end of August.

The Industry 4.0 initiative covers Michigan’s I-69 Thumb Region which includes Genesee, Huron, Lapeer, Sanilac, Shiawassee, St. Clair, and Tuscola counties, and was funded with $138,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. That money is going toward determining local manufacturers’ readiness for technologies like artificial intelligence.

“Our role is really to go out and assess manufacturers to see where they are and how technology can benefit them,” said Jeff Schultz, director of marketing for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, one of the groups signed on to complete Industry 4.0 readiness assessments.

Schultz said he understands that some of the concepts involved in the assessments are daunting, but their goal is simple: to make smaller manufacturers more competitive by helping them understand the tech possible for their processes and train their employees to use it.

“If you’re not embracing technology, you’re being left behind,” Schultz said. “Your competitors are embracing technology.”

After completing the initial readiness survey, a manufacturer will be connected to MMTC for a broader assessment, which may result in technology recommendations. The Flint & Genesee County Economic Alliance has a secondary program to help local manufacturers acquire that technology, as well, said Rossmaessler, and MMTC will help manage the training and ‘upskilling’ necessary for a manufacturer to adopt it.

This localized Industry 4.0 initiative is part of a larger MEDC version which is focused on tech readiness in small and mid-sized manufacturers statewide. The larger initiative is meant to ensure that 50 percent of Michigan manufacturers are prepared to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies at some level by 2025.

The Industry 4.0 assessment process is free. To sign up a small or medium-sized manufacturing business, fill out this survey.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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