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University of Missouri Plans ‘Industry 4.0’ Lab

From left, Jim Noble, Mike Klote and Yi Wang from the University of Missouri College of Engineering examine equipment in one of the college’s two existing manufacturing core labs. The adoption of autonomous technologies for smart manufacturing across the U.S. in recent years has driven higher ed investments in machine learning, data science, blockchain technology and advanced 3D printing. At the University of Missouri, interest in smart manufacturing is taking the form of an “Industry 4.0” lab set to open next year, with hands-on activities to teach both the information and physical aspects of the field. According to a recent news release , University of Missouri researchers Jim Noble and Yi Wang are building out the facility with a one-year, $1 million grant from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development. It said the lab is scheduled to open in fall 2024. “Industry 4.0 is multi-faceted, but at its core, it’s a fusion of information — cybersecurity, big data, cloud computing and blockchain — and cyber-physical manufacturing — sensors and Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, robotics, collaborative robots, autonomous material flow and digital twins,” Noble, professor and chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, said in a public statement. “Our Industry 4.0 lab will be a showcase of how all these aspects fit together seamlessly.” Noble told Government Technology that the university is spending this year designing the Industry 4.0 lab, which he hopes will host roughly 40 to 60 students at a time for activities that train them on emerging technologies involved with what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution — an era of innovation driven by device connectivity, advanced analytics and automation. The announcement also noted that the new lab will build upon what students learn in the College of Engineering’s two existing manufacturing labs, one of which focuses on integrated industrial controls and automation, and the other a combination of traditional and advanced manufacturing processes. “The thing that really defines Industry 4.0 is the ubiquitous integration of information and sensors to collect data and then use that data through AI processes and automation to improve the system and the monitoring to control it. In this case, [our lab will feature] the integration of robotics, various kinds of automation, sensors, a layer of AI and the use of blockchain,” he said. “We want students to have hands-on exposure designing and configuring these kinds of systems. We’re using what’s called asynchronous module delivery, where basically we break down skills into multiple instructional cells within the lab so we can get a lot of students engaged with the equipment, doing different things to learn how to actually use these technologies … We want to help them learn not just the design, but how to troubleshoot [challenges] to create systems that will be robust.” According to the news release, the university will use some of the grant funding to develop courses for an undergraduate program as well as a certificate program for people who are already working in the industry. Noble said the lab’s curriculum will be supported and guided by an industrial advisory board including companies such as 3M, Hubbell Power Systems and Rockwell Automation, among others. Noble said the lab aims to help U.S. and Missouri manufacturers become globally competitive amid the advent of smart manufacturing, as companies bring more jobs back to the U.S. after years of outsourcing. He added that manufacturing jobs today are different from those of 30 years ago. “Over my career, I’ve seen offshoring take place, but over the last five years or so, we’ve started to have more reshoring of production for lots of reasons, and as those [careers] come back, they’re not going to be high-touch low-technology manufacturing jobs in the U.S. They’re going to be technology-driven jobs,” he said. “We don’t have the workforce, so having the technology and workforce that knows how to work with the technology is going to be key for us to be globally competitive.”

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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