TROY, Mich. – Tom Kelly, the CEO of Automation Alley, is almost an evangelist for advanced manufacturing technology and Industry 4.0.
The non-profit organization has a mission to inform manufacturers, large and small, about how advanced technologies, such as 3D printing, collaborative robots, and artificial intelligence, are changing manufacturing. The group began in southeastern Michigan but now operates across Michigan.
Kelly’s message: Industry 4.0 is spurring changes in traditional manufacturing business models.
“I have a feeling manufacturing is going to be disrupted,” Kelly said at an interview at Automation Alley headquarters in Troy, Mich.
Industry 4.0 has been an issue in manufacturing for years.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, enables new designs for parts and systems. AI changes manufacturing from the start. Cobots mean robots can work in close proximity to human operators. Industry 4.0 means machines can communicate directly with human operators.
Automation Alley was founded in the late 1990s. The group’s mission has evolved since then. It works with large and small manufacturers. Kelly came aboard as COO in 2014 and became CEO in 2016.
According to Kelly, some manufacturers still don’t understand how the sector is changing.
“Our biggest problem is indifference,” he said. “I have a feeling manufacturing is going to be disrupted.”
Both large and small manufacturers have heard previously that massive change is coming.
Such manufacturers reply, Kelly said, “The world is still spinning.”
Kelly’s reply: “You’ve been the frog in the (hot) water for some time. But eventually, the heat will kill you.”
The Automation Alley organization is reaching out to concerning how Industry 4.0 is causing major shifts.
Here are some examples:
--Automation Alley formed a partnership with the World Economic Forum, the same group that conducts an annual program in Davos, Switzerland. The partnership is aimed at larger manufacturers.
“It’s meant immediate credibility on the global stage,” Kelly said of the partnership. The tie with the World Economic Forum has boosted Automation Alley’s visibility, he said. “They have such a powerful brand on the global stage.”
--Project DIAMOnD, which is aimed at smaller manufacturers. Automation Alley has distributed about 300 3D printers to smaller companies. Those printers form a network. When needed, the printers and the network can be used for mass printing of medical supplies (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic) or tourniquets (during the Russian invasion of Ukraine).
Recipients get a chance to own 3D printers valued at more than $20,000 and learn how to use them to supplement their own manufacturing operations.
--A forum for manufacturers to review the advances of Industry 4.0: Automation Alley organizes Integr8, a conference in the Detroit area. The gathering started in the 2010s but COVID-19 caused a disruption. This year’s edition will be in Novi, Mich., on May 9, the week after SME’s RAPID + TCT, being held May 2-4, 2023, in Chicago.
Integr8 “is a rather intimate show,” Kelly said. The event is aimed at Michigan manufacturers. “The whole idea is to expose these small business owners, these small manufacturers to what’s possible for them.”