"What we're all participating in is the fourth industrial revolution," says Patrick Dempsey, president and CEO of iconic Connecticut manufacturer Barnes Group Inc., based in Bristol.
That revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0, is dramatically changing the way things get made—here and around the world.
Beginning in 2010 and following the introduction in the 1970s of computers and automation (the third industrial revolution), "What has really taken off is an emphasis on cyberphysical systems—making automation smart," Dempsey says.
"Industry 4.0 is focused on leveraging the virtual and digital technology that has become available in the last few years and bringing that technology into the manufacturing place.
"What's really at the heart of it are elements such as the internet of things, cloud computing, system integration, additive manufacturing, and autonomous robots.
"At the end of the day, what it focuses on is end-to-end digitalization of how we do business, with the simple goal of driving the next level of efficiency into our operations."
This new wave in manufacturing and the ways Barnes Group is adapting was the topic of Dempsey's keynote address before 300 business leaders at CBIA's Sept. 8 The Connecticut Economy conference in Hartford.
With its origins as a manufacturer of springs for hoop skirts and clocks in 1857, Barnes Group has grown into a leading global provider of engineered products and differentiated industrial technologies, serving the automotive, aerospace, and industrial markets.
The company employs 5,200 people worldwide—including 550 at four Connecticut locations—and boasts annual revenue of $1.2 billion.
Today, Barnes Group is fully adopting Industry 4.0, which Dempsey says is essential for success in today's global business environment.
"For those who want to be competitive in the future, it's going to require that we as manufacturers embrace the technology, whether it's in the form of smart connected products or smart factories."
For those manufacturers who want to be competitive in the future, it means embracing technology.
"Just even in the lifetime of our skilled workforce, as they began their careers, the emphasis was on their personal skills and how they manually operated a particular work center," said Dempsey.
"Today there's not a piece of capital equipment in our facility that isn't operated by a computer.
"So to be a skilled craftsman, not only do you have to understand the nuances of what it is to actually produce the part [you’re making], but you have to interface with a CNC machine or a computer numerically controlled machine, and you have to be as well-versed in that computer as you do with the actual physical process that's occurring at the tip of a tool."
The Education Imperative
The need for workers with more technologically advanced skill sets is a challenge Barnes Group recognizes and is aggressively working to meet by partnering with education institutions throughout Connecticut—from elementary schools to universities—and investing in apprenticeship programs.
"As we embrace these new technologies, the question becomes, 'How are our local high schools and technical institutions promoting STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math?'" Dempsey asked.
"These are the types of students we’ll need if we're going to thrive, and if our [education] systems don't produce students with aspirations to move into this industry and the necessary engineering or technical foundation, then it creates significant challenges."
Dempsey noted that data-gathering sensors are built into the new manufacturing work centers Barnes Group purchases, but that data can be used only if employees analyze it effectively.
Developing such highly-skilled workers starts with the high schools and technical schools, "but as we move further along the technology curve," said Dempsey, "universities will have to step up as well and produce the skills that align with the next chapter in manufacturing."
Barnes Group is reaching out to local schools and colleges to promote manufacturing and the new technologies that represent the future of the industry.
"We have some wonderful relationships with the University of Connecticut, the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering in Windsor, and a number of other schools," said Dempsey.
“What's necessary if business is going to be successful in Connecticut is that legislators, businesses, and the educational institutions are all going to have to work hand-in-hand.”
If business is going to be successful, legislators, businesses, and educational institutions all have to work hand-in-hand.
But they haven't stopped there.
"Usually, manufacturing isn't top-of-mind with students," said Dempsey. "So even if it seems to be a step too far, we've gone into elementary schools to promote manufacturing, because that seed needs to be sown early on.
"When you think about that student working with an iPhone or iPad, and they're able to make it sing—we want that same skill set to be brought into our facilities with a view to driving efficiencies as we think about driving digitalization throughout our company."