The digital world is coming to manufacturing

By Karen White

“Going forward, suppliers will have to keep up with this technology, or they won’t be competitive,” says Dennis Little, Vice President of Production, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, a division of Lockheed Martin Corporation. The February 2015 report, The Internet of Things: What it means for US manufacturing, by PwC provides a thorough update on the adoption of the Internet of Things technology by the manufacturing industry.

According to PwC and Cisco, the number of connected devices reached 14.7 billion in February 2015 and is expected to reach a massive 50 billion in just 5 years (by 2020)—growing 240% in 5 years. Only 35% of U.S. manufacturers are currently using data generated by smart sensors to enhance manufacturing/operating processes, and 24% of manufacturers have no plans to use smart sensors for this purpose.

Despite these lower adoption rates, the U.S. is home to very innovative combinations of this technology. One example, Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies, a machinery parts maker, has combined a communications protocol (allowing the monitoring and data analysis of manufacturing equipment through the pass of information between production equipment and software applications) with Google Glass. This has enabled the machine operators to see data streamed to the Google Glass and to access other information available on the internet to help with troubleshooting and decision-making.

Also, given the level of the advanced manufacturing and industrial base in the U.S., we are a “field of opportunity” for new business models to grow. One such possibility is equipping tractors or engines with sensors that provide performance and other data that is then analyzed for the end-user and provides actionable data on dashboards accessible through mobile devices. This after-point-of-sale service to the end user can provide new revenue streams and improve customer loyalty leading to future purchases.

What does all of this mean for the future talent needs of the manufacturing industry? New skills will be needed and new jobs will emerge that could not have been imagined more than 5 years ago. New titles include digital-mechanical engineers, data scientists, business operations data analytics, and user interface experts. In fact, a look at LinkedIn job listings showed 17,000+ listings for manufacturing engineer, 34,000+ job listings for data science engineer, and 12,000+ for manufacturing systems engineers.

Utilizing Wanted Analytics, a database tool that shows the number of job openings posted to online job sites, the number of job postings in Minnesota for related positions are provided:
• Industrial Engineer 14,523
• Manufacturing Engineer 7,868
• Mechanical Engineer 5,665
• Data Scientist 826
• Data Analyst 7,794
• User Interface Expert 483
• Digital-Mechanical Engineer 287
• Data Science Engineer 3,439
• Manufacturing Systems Engineer 5,083

(Search parameters included the geographic region of Minnesota, date range April 6, 2015 to August 4, 2015, and key word searches.)

Clearly, these are new skills and new jobs that will transform the operations of manufacturing businesses and change the knowledge, skills, and abilities taught in manufacturing-related education programs.