UNI, national partners launch major Industry 4.0 technology initiative

Apr 19, 2022

A new partnership between the University of Northern Iowa, Youngstown State University and the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining will leverage $10 million in first-year funding to increase the number of small-to-midsize enterprises using advanced technologies, bolster critical areas of the defense manufacturing supply chain and create jobs.

The partnership will provide hundreds of businesses each year with support to remove barriers to adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, enabling a faster output of quality parts while expanding and strengthening the supply chain. Those technologies include robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing.

“Implementation of Industry 4.0 practices in advanced manufacturing is a crucial element for maintaining a strong Defense Industrial Base” Randy Gilmore, Vice President and Chief Development Officer at NCDMM said on the significance of this project. “NCDMM and America Makes are proud to be a part of the project team and to have the opportunity to play an essential role in this effort.”

The funding will remove barriers of adopting Industry 4.0 technologies for small- to medium-sized organizations within the defense casting supply chain. This will enable faster supply of quality castings along with an expansion of the supply chain.

“In the next five years, our nation’s manufacturing economy is positioned to achieve levels of efficiency and productivity not yet realized with current technologies,” said Jerry Thiel, Director of the UNI Foundry 4.0 Center. “The integration of robotics, automation, sensors, and other Industry 4.0 technologies allowed through this partnership will position our nation for sustained global leadership in industry. Bringing Industry 4.0 technologies to the metal casting industry while training the future workforce will be critical in strengthening the country’s manufacturing base and removing supply chain issues with critical cast components.”

The project was made possible through competitive funding secured by a bipartisan Congressional coalition across Iowa and Ohio.

“We are grateful for the bipartisan effort in Congress to secure competitive funding for this project,” said UNI President Mark A. Nook. “Special thanks to Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, Congresswoman Ashley Hinson, Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Randy Feenstra for their leadership and support of this effort to support a strong manufacturing base for years to come.”

Senators and representatives from Iowa and Ohio spoke to the importance of the Industry 4.0 technology adoption project for global competitiveness.

“To keep our manufacturing up-to-date, workers need to have the skills to operate new technologies and keep America competitive,” United States Senator Chuck Grassley said. “That’s important in all fields, but it’s especially true in sectors like the defense supply chain where we cannot afford to fall behind.”

“As our nation faces more serious security threats and a more dangerous world than we have in a generation, it’s all the more imperative we not only bolster our national defense but also bring manufacturing and our defense supply chain back home,” said United States Senator Joni Ernst. “I’m pleased this investment in America’s and Iowa’s workforce will help make sure our nation remains as innovative and competitive as ever.”

“I am proud to have helped secure this investment in the University of Northern Iowa’s (UNI) Industry 4.0 program,” said United States Congresswoman Ashley Hinson. “This initiative will strengthen Iowa’s workforce, foster new job opportunities and ensure our state remains globally competitive in advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing has long been a key part of our economy in Iowa, and as this industry evolves, our workforce needs to adapt and grow as well. UNI is at the forefront of this mission, and we’ll continue working together to invest in Iowa’s workers.”

“Improving our supply chain and enhancing our defense manufacturing capabilities is critical to protecting Iowa jobs and strengthening our national security,” said United States Representative Randy Feenstra. “While China and other foreign countries grow their defense production at record pace, America needs to keep up. This investment in Industry 4.0 manufacturing will benefit our economy, our military and future workforce training at the University of Northern Iowa.”

“From Youngstown, Ohio to Cedar Falls, Iowa, we are on the verge of the next great age of manufacturing in America, but that only happens by making robust investments in our workforce to bring our supply chain back home,” United States Congressman Tim Ryan said. “I am grateful to have such dynamic partners in Youngstown State University, the Youngstown Business Incubator, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and the University of Northern Iowa to build a future that puts hardworking Americans first.”

The partnership is designed to address numerous challenges manufacturers face in adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, including an aging workforce confronting short- and long-term work shortages and prohibitive costs that cause manufacturers to forgo upgrading to the new technologies.

“We are excited to be a part of this DLA partnership to help our region and the manufacturing community accelerate the transformation of its advanced manufacturing capabilities leveraging the YSU Excellence Training Center at Kohli Hall,” said Jackie Ruller, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Research and Commercialization at YSU. “We will be working with small- to medium-size businesses throughout the Midwest and East Coast to increase adoption of Industry 4.0 through research, commercialization and new workforce training solutions.”

“The distinctiveness of this project is that it blends training and applied research with personalized assistance to re-skill the existing workforce, prepare the next generation of our state’s and nation’s workforce and help the company owners create the financial and strategic plan for investing in and managing these technologies,” said Andrew Morse, Chief of Staff at UNI. “It will save existing jobs, create new jobs and help fortify our nation’s leading position in the global manufacturing supply chain.”

Project funding allows UNI and YSU to grow their outreach to small-to-midsize employers and provide industry-tailored training in automation, robotics and Industry 4.0 topics. These employers would have access to leading technologies in world-class facilities.

The initiative will provide several services to help manufacturers adopt new technologies. Direct one-to-one assistance will focus on developing a business strategy and the consequential support processes and training events, including webinars, will be offered regularly to provide awareness of critical elements and the training necessary to integrate them into the operation.

“We are excited to expand UNI’s expertise in Industry 4.0 to enhance the readiness of the Department of Defense supply chain,” said Randy Pilkington, executive director of Business & Community Services at UNI.

UNI and YSU have experienced success in utilizing applied technology to remove barriers to the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies.

UNI’s research and training on 3D sand-based printing with multiple industry partners has led to growth in the number of manufacturers using these technologies, causing a decline in production costs and enhanced quality. UNI also recently acquired an automated investment casting production system, which can also be used to help entrepreneurs learn about the integration of Industry 4.0 technology on their production floors as this innovation takes hold in industry.

This project is sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency Information Operations, J68, Research & Development, Ft. Belvoir, VA and the DLA Troop Support, Philadelphia, PA.

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