The Upstate economy has made great strides coming out of the “Great Recession” thanks to a vibrant manufacturing base that calls our ten-county region home.
As this large sector continue to hum along, one theme to watch for in 2016 is the idea of “Industry 4.0” within our manufacturing base. Industry 4.0 is where manufacturing connects with Cyber-Physical Systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services.
This will affect both large and small companies and for many, it is a choice they must embrace to ensure increased productivity and efficiency.
Industry 4.0 puts South Carolina on the brink of the fourth major upheaval in modern manufacturing – digitization of manufacturing. It is more than just using 3D printing in manufacturing or a robotic arms to pack boxes on the assembly. This is dealing with “Big Data”: advanced analytics, and human-machine interfaces including robotics and virtual reality. This is a disruptive emerging trend that manufacturers cannot afford to ignore.
For many, this will include modernizing plant floor equipment and moving to state-of-the-art operational systems — including cloud-based ERP systems — to better manage information. These technologies will reshape organizations, skills inventories and work patterns. One could argue that the skills gap is a going to become an even bigger issue due to the continued modernization of the manufacturing floor.
Going forward, manufacturers must embrace these new technologies, but also work harder with educational partners to ensure the workforce is ready for the challenges ahead.
This new explosion will impact the Upstate’s manufacturing base greatly as we need to create a workforce to meet these new demands. We already are seeing this need in Oconee and we are working to adapt.
We have more than 60 different industries represented here, creating products as diverse as plastic wrap for food producers, to battery cases and engine valves for the automotive suppliers in our area. Through our 60 plus industries, we are plugged into a vast network of 17.4 million manufacturing employees, who collectively produce $2.09 trillion for the U.S. economy.
Every October, we help host more than 5,000 eighth grade students from across Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens counties to introduce them to the possibilities of careers in manufacturing. The skills they are learning in school now can propel them into careers in a variety of STEM fields, and it was encouraging to see our local schools introducing students to the career opportunities that exist right in their backyards.
This successful event is just one example of a way our community is collaborating to encourage manufacturing growth in Oconee County. With the support our industries receive from the school district, the chamber of commerce, and others, it’s clear that our manufacturers will be successful for years to come.
It is part of the reason, we started the “Made in Oconee” campaign last fall. It is a coordinated marketing initiative to enrich the relationship between local manufacturers and the school district of Oconee County. This multi-tiered campaign highlights the products made in Oconee County and the people who make them.
This “Made In Oconee” initiative is our effort to raise the visibility of the manufacturing industry, while bridging the gap between manufacturing facilities and the school system to highlight diverse employment opportunities for our students as well as ensure local manufacturers have access to skilled local talent.
We are doing this now because Industry 4.0 is coming and we need to be ready.
Richard K. Blackwell is the executive director of Oconee Economic Alliance, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for citizens of Oconee County by encouraging a diversified economy that attracts industrial and commercial investment and fosters retention of existing business and industry. To learn more visit www.InvestOconeeSC.com.