During a recent episode of the South Georgia Insider Podcast, Joshua Whittington, assistant dean of Technical and Instructional Programs at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, explained Industry 4.0 and its impact on local manufacturing.
In the 18th century, the first industrial revolution represented a shift from handmade products and a primarily agricultural economy to one dominated by machinery. From the late 19th century into the early 20th century, the second industrial wave rapidly increased mass production and the use of assembly lines. Decades later, the third industrial period gave rise to the digital age with electronics, telecommunications, and computers.
Further advancing technology, the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) trends toward cyber-physical systems, automation, more extensive exchange of data analytics, the creation of smart factories, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
“With each wave of technological innovation, we’ve seen changes to our workforce and changes to our manufacturing processes,” Whittington said. “When steam and water energy first came out, we’re able to harness that for our machines to aid in those mechanical processes, and then we introduced the assembly line. Then eventually got to the point of using electricity, robotics, and automation. We are kind of leaving that one and entering into a brand new fourth wave.”
Industry 4.0 represents the trend toward automation and data exchange in technology and processes within the manufacturing industry.
“It’s the first time in history we’ve actually been able to view this change in technology and be a part of it and more progressive in our stance in equipping ourselves with the needed skills,” Whittington said. “Industry 4.0 is working with all the big data analytics behind all the automated processes. Everything that we do in manufacturing now can be traced back to a source and streamlined and made more efficient with the use of this data that these processes generate.”
Similar to having smart-home technology that allows homeowners to control thermostats, lights, appliances, and other devices from their smartphone or internet connection, Industry 4.0 applies the same concept in manufacturing.
Continuing to develop innovative solutions for local industries, Wiregrass Tech has developed an Associate of Applied Science in Industry 4.0 Technology, which starts in spring 2023.
“We’ve seen a shift across all of our technologies toward a more automated area, whether it is truck driving, manufacturing, or welding,” said Whittington, who explained the Industry 4.0 associate degree program combines business, computer science, and manufacturing.
The program was developed through a National Science Foundation grant that allowed Wiregrass Tech to explore the future needs of local industries.
Through the combined efforts of regional industry leaders and Wiregrass Tech, Whittington said they were able to develop a program for the “next wave of the workforce.”
“There are a lot of different paths to get you to the career you want,” he said. “For us, it’s a technical path. It’s getting your hands on that application, learning by doing, and getting that experience under your belt.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, Georgia’s total output from manufacturing was $61.61 billion in 2019, and employs an average of 389,000 people, with an average compensation of $70,500.
“We have the workforce right now [in Georgia], but is our workforce prepared with [the right] skills?” Whittington said. “That’s is the core of what we are aiming to do.”
Whittington said that looking at future workforce needs, “The changes that we see coming will greatly affect our companies. We believe the Industry 4.0 program will equip those students with the necessary skills.”
While not all companies utilize all Industry 4.0 concepts, Whittington said, “We know that in four to five years, we are definitely going to have more companies that are going to need this sort of technology.”
Offering businesses and industries a variety of solutions, Wiregrass Tech’s No. 1 goal is workforce readiness.
“Whether it’s an accredited program for students in our classroom or a flexible customized-training plan through our economic development staff, we have options for manufacturers and industries,” he said.