The Four Letters That Will Change Manufacturing and Your Career

The Four Letters That Will Change Manufacturing and Your Career

Everyone has encountered talk about the changes in manufacturing leading to what some are already calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.  One of the things we haven’t heard much about is how Industry 4.0 is going to change the way things get done.  What is going to be the best career strategy in this era of change?

Our crystal ball is not as clear about all the coming new business opportunities as it might be, but we have one insight to share about future-proofing your career. This insight is based on our vantage point of working with leading-edge companies such as Virgin Orbit or Skullcandy. We even wrote an entire eBook The Power of APIs for Connected Manufacturing about our experience.  What we found was enabling digital connectivity in manufacturing is going to be a skill in greater and greater demand in the future.  It takes looking at no more than the four letters of A, I, O, and T to see why.

The IoT

To anticipate the Internet of Things (IoT) will eventually streamline manufacturing operations does not require much foresight. Over the years, thousands and thousands of different kinds of sensors have been developed to detect environmental changes. There are sensors that measure changes in sound, vibration, chemical composition, electric current, electric potential, magnetic force, radio waves, flow, fluid velocity, ionizing radiation, position, angle, displacement, distance, speed, acceleration, force, density, level, temperature, proximity and presence to name just a few.

To anticipate how the IoT will eventually function on the shop floor of the future is much more difficult to see. Once various manufacturing devices are equipped with sensors to coordinate the identification, processing, and actuation of manufacturing processes things are likely to get done in ways unimaginable today. Pundits are already predicting the IoT will reduce unplanned downtime, improve visibility into the supply chain, minimize risk, spawn new products and services.  Maybe IoT devices embedded in products will create a feedback loop so that they modify future designs of themselves, but who can truthfully say?

One thing is clear though, no matter what happens, manufacturing data integration is going to be key to the future success of both organizations and individuals. By their nature, IoT devices generate enormous volumes of data. Even as you read this, sensors in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN are producing one petabyte of data every day – the equivalent of 210,000 DVDs. All that data has to go somewhere.

Artificial Intelligence

AI has had some fits and starts since its founding as an academic discipline in 1956.  In the years following, AI experienced waves of optimism, followed by troughs of despair. Thanks in no small part to data integration and the internet, AI has finally evolved into a viable commercial technology.

Although AI is a big tent covering a lot of unrelated approaches, one of the most promising of the new generation of these is convolutional neural networks. What AI and the IoT have in common is data. Convolutional neural networks need a lot of data, and the IoT produces a lot.

IoT and AI: A Marriage Made in Heaven

Once connected IoT devices enable AI driven interconnected manufacturing, many current factory jobs are likely to change or disappear.  Even complex tasks that are done today by highly skilled people, such as statistical process control, industrial design, or purchasing are likely to be taken over by AI and the IoT eventually.

One skill we believe that will always be in demand in high-tech manufacturing is connecting these systems together. In a sense, IoT devices and AI algorithms are like Legos. You can’t expect them to snap together into place by themselves no matter how smart.  This is the insight our clients have given us about the future of manufacturing.


Cutting through the hype, thoughtful people working in manufacturing need to be realistic about how connected devices, interconnected manufacturing, and supply chain integration will impact their careers. New technologies like the IoT and AI are going to change how business process management gets done. Those who can take advantage of these new technologies are going to enjoy long and successful careers. Download this eBook to learn even deeper insights.