Four Reasons You Should Be Teaching IIoT & Smart Factory Technologies By Wes Scott | Amatrol

In this article, a former high school educator shares four reasons why the Industrial Internet of Things and Smart Factory technologies should be presented to students of all ages, and the benefits it can bring to your school or business, as well as your learners.

Over the next five years, smart factories may contribute as much as $500 billion in added value to the global economy, according to Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute.

Once delegated to strictly the manufacturing realm, smart factory technologies are becoming more universally used. Now, sectors like Agriculture, Transportation, and Construction are all increasing their reliance on a more automated workforce.

So how is all of this smart factory technology able to work so seamlessly? It is through the IIoT, or the Industrial Internet of Things.

In the manufacturing world, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Smart Factory Technologies are the way of life – machines communicate with each other, proactively working through a variety of projects, as well as problems that may arise. Working hand-in-hand with those employees on the floor, these smart technologies increase production while keeping costs affordable for companies.

Yet outside of a few post-secondary schools and select major industries, these crucial smart technology skills are being overlooked. This lapse has, among other things, led to a skills gap in the workforce, with business owners having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open positions.

Here are four reasons why you should be teaching IIoT and Smart Factory Technologies in any educational setting:

1. There is a Skills Gap in the Workforce, Creating Job Opportunities for Skilled Workers

Why do students go to a four-year university? Most would probably agree it is to further their education, and become better prepared to enter the workforce. Others attend post-secondary education just to appease a parent, family member or teacher – entering a four-year college or university with no aim, or goal, in mind. Typically, those students will experience stress during their tenure and, as discussed in our article on apprenticeships, debt once they leave. Add in the country’s 3.9-percent unemployment rate as of August 2018 – previous low reached in December 2000 -- and some students will wonder what good comes from a four-year college degree.

But while the unemployment rate nationwide is low, there is still a tremendous skills gap in manufacturing. According to a study by Deloitte’s Skills Gap in US Manufacturing, experts project up to two million manufacturing jobs to go unfilled by the year 2025, mostly due to an underqualified job pool. Additionally, roughly 84-percent of executives agree there is a talent shortage in US manufacturing. In fact, Motlow State Community College recently instituted a Mechatronics training program to help alleviate an estimated deficit of nearly 2,000 mechatronics-qualified workers in Tennessee each year.

Exposing students as young as elementary school-age to the in’s and out’s of manufacturing is setting them up for future success, both in the classroom and in the workforce. While a skills gap may be hurting employers, it sets up skilled, talented workers for an opportunity to succeed.

2. Not All Superheroes Wear Capes – Some Prevent Crippling Cyber Attacks

In school, we were taught to never plagiarize, one of the golden rules of the classroom. Stealing someone’s work and attempting to use it for your own purpose, or benefit, is the academic equivalence of fraud.

Unfortunately, we also learned that there are some folks out there that don’t play by the rules. And those same people will do whatever possible to get ahead, even at the expense of others. With how quickly technology has advanced, coupled with cyber criminals looking to wreak havoc, new fears have been instilled in companies that were once only seen in Hollywood film scripts: industrial cyber espionage.

No, cyber espionage is not the premise of a cheesy science-fiction movie — it’s what companies that implement smart factories fear on a daily basis: remote cyberattacks. Because today’s connected technologies can increase the risk of cyberattacks, it’s more important than ever for manufacturing employers to stay vigilant and secure, even dealing with IT issues.

But they can’t do it alone.

In the fast-paced, ever-changing manufacturing environment, employers are relying on high schools and community colleges to teach the IIoT. Manufacturing is turning more to the use of the IIoT, but it’s rarely being taught specifically for the industrial sector. The lack of knowledge could make potential impacts even more crippling, which could eventually reach all the way to mainstream production.

While some in the manufacturing sector may still think the IIoT is a product of the future, the truth is that this is the future – it is here today.

So introducing learners, no matter the department, to the IIoT early on – especially the IT-related applications and functions within IIoT — can help to protect future companies from an outsider hacking their system, and wreaking havoc on a remote smart factory. While a skills gap in manufacturing hurts the industry, the same gap in something like cyber security could be catastrophic. This is why Amatrol included an entire Network Security Learning System (87-NS1) as part of its Smart Factory training system.

3. With Manufacturing Changing So Rapidly, IIoT Training Will Be Critical For All Employees

A majority of Americans already have experience with the Internet of Things, implementing smart products like Apple’s Siri, doorbell cameras and home security systems into their daily lives.

According to a May 2018 study by Metova Software Development, 90 percent of US consumers own some form of a smart home device. Just three years prior, in 2015, that same number was hovering around 20 percent of consumers. Needless to say, Americans of all ages are beginning to buy into smart technology, including the Internet of Things (IoT).

However just because people are familiar with a technology doesn’t mean there won’t be a steep learning curve. In the industrial sector, applications, technology, and processes are evolving daily, and what might have been a useful skill a decade ago may now be dated or even obsolete. With so many companies turning toward automation, learning about the Industrial Internet of Things is just as important for workers staying in the industry as it is for those looking to break into it.

In smart technology settings, maintenance positions are, more or less, the brains of these machines. These workers are in the trenches every day, dealing directly with smart machines and their technologies. But as intelligent as these devices are, they need highly-trained, skilled workers to keep them active and functioning at the most efficient level.

This means continued training, regardless if it is your newest employee, or your most seasoned one. As Smart Technology continues to integrate different areas and disciplines, it’s getting more difficult to stand still as a specialist in one area. Learning about these smart technologies, even on the job, gives workers an opportunity to succeed, and avoid being swept up in the elimination of low-skill tasks.

4. Take an Active Role in Advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Ask a student of almost any age to describe a typical school day, and their answers might begin sounding similar: lots of reading, a little writing and some arithmetic. Unfortunately, most of this learning happens in one of the worst places for a student to retain this information – sitting behind a desk.

For some, the workforce is no different. Instead of being active and hands-on, workers are confined behind a desk for eight hours a day. As mentioned in a previous article about attracting Millennials to your business, the worst place young employees can be is in a sedentary environment.

Instead, Millennials crave the feeling of contributing to something of value. Many, in fact, would be willing to take less money for a position they feel passionate about, rather than earning a larger paycheck with little importance to society.

So then what can be more valuable to a young learner or employee than being a part of the fourth Industrial Revolution?

The fast-paced evolution of present-day manufacturing gives people the chance to play a hands-on role in the fourth phase of the Industrial Revolution by working on still-evolving technology. This environment will also provide immediate gratification through problem-solving when a technology malfunctions and the ability to see your contribution to the world in the form of finished goods.

So with all the proven benefits of a Smart Factory, and how it’s sitting square in the future of manufacturing, the better question is actually “Why aren’t you teaching IIoT and Smart Factory Technologies?”

About Wes Scott

Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn pages.

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