Industry 4.0: Making Connections In Michigan

Michigan is investing in a connected, smart manufacturing future, heralding a new age of automotive design and autonomous vehicles

By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2019 Issue

Thanks to the storied origins and deep roots of automobile and supplier companies in the mitten state, “Michigan” and “manufacturing” have become virtually synonymous over the last 120 years. Like a classic car bumper emblazoned with chrome, the state has been bonded to its enviable reputation for manufacturing prowess and productivity for decades.

Michigan connectivity
KLA, a California-based provider of process control and process-enabling solutions, recently cut the ribbon on its new research and development center in Ann Arbor, MI.

In addition to building a manufacturing base, the entrepreneurs and inventors who created the original “Industry 1.0” also revolutionized how labor forces integrated into a manufacturing process that at every stage and level continues to thrive and expand today. And besides boasting a manufacturing workforce that is second to none, Michigan has the nation’s greatest concentration of skilled engineers, according a recent analysis done by the Michigan Manufacturing Association.

Now in this first quarter of the 21st century, having sped through Industry 2.0 and 3.0, the future of mobility, led by the push for electrification and autonomous vehicles, is helping lead the charge into investing in the new age of automotive design and manufacturing. For example, Ford is partnering with electric vehicle maker Rivian to develop new EVs and has announced the Ford City: One challenge in partnership with PlanetM, the mobility arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Fiat-Chrysler has begun work on an all-new state-of-the-art assembly plant in Detroit, the city’s first in nearly 30 years. And General Motors is investing $300 million and adding 400 jobs at its Orion, Michigan facility in support of its “Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions and Zero Congestion” vision.


It’s easy to assume that Michigan’s success depends primarily on an old-school automotive industry, but in fact, diversified, increasingly advanced manufacturing now makes up a huge part of the state’s business structure, blending Michigan’s traditional work ethic and a high-tech innovative vision like never before. And auto companies, while helping lead the charge into this new paradigm with future of mobility efforts, are just one part of the equation now.

An increasing number of manufacturers beyond automotive, from furniture to beer to medical devices, are adapting their manufacturing facilities to integrate data, use advanced materials or take precautions against cyber security threats. Forward-thinking companies are taking steps to align with the manufacturing shift we know as Industry 4.0. Stryker, one of Michigan’s core innovative medical products companies, will expand capacity of its medical-device facility with a $109-million investment at its 79-acre industrial site in Portage, located in Kalamazoo County, assisted by a $2.6-million Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF).

Manufacturers like Stryker will continue to play an important role in Michigan’s diverse manufacturing economy, leading the transition to smart and connected facilities across the state.

As manufacturers make their transitions into Industry 4.0, advanced manufacturing is opening up new possibilities for employers with vision and employees with the right skill sets and training to take advantage of the many new dynamic tech jobs opening up. The state of Michigan is aggressively investing in a high-tech talent pipeline accordingly. For example:

  • The Jobs Ready Michigan program was created by the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) to meet the talent needs of companies that are expanding or relocating to Michigan. The program is designed to be flexible and responsive to the specific talent needs of companies and to address the costs associated with recruiting and training individuals for occupations that are high-wage, high-skill or high-demand.
  • Kettering University GM Mobility Research Center, an academic/company partnership between Kettering and General Motors, is working with academics to train the future of mobility talent at Kettering University’s campus in Flint, Michigan. The unique facility, the only one of its kind on a college campus in the country, puts Kettering and Flint at the forefront of autonomous vehicle research and development, safety and technology.
  • The Michigan Mobility Institute announced Wayne State University’s College of Engineering as its inaugural education partner to develop the world’s first advanced mobility educational curriculum. Over the coming months, the organizations will begin development of programming that will power new mobility careers in Detroit and around the globe.

Private companies are quickly finding Michigan’s friendly business and education climate to be great catalysts for investment and growth. KLA, a leading provider of process control and process-enabling solutions headquartered in Milpitas, CA, has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, and recently received support from the state, opening its new research and development center in Ann Arbor.

Waymo, a rapidly growing self-driving technology company based in Mountain View, CA, plans to locate the world’s first factory 100 percent dedicated to the mass production of L4 autonomous vehicles in Michigan, with company officials saying that they wanted this facility to benefit from a location in southeast Michigan—the heart of the American automotive industry—and its strong talent base.

With advanced manufacturing working hand in glove with the Internet of Things, cyber security has become a paramount concern to address for manufacturers and consumers alike. However, according to BF’s 2019 State Rankings Report, Michigan ranks among the top 10 in the nation for cyber security growth potential, manufacturing workforce, opportunity zones and tech job growth, and still ranks #1 overall for automotive manufacturing strength.

From the robots and computers in the manufacturing facilities to smart pacemakers, microwaves and vehicles, cyber security is needed from a product’s conception throughout its lifecycle. The continued evolution toward Industry 4.0 and the demand for more connected consumer products means that cyber security professionals are in high demand. The need for skilled cyber jobs is not going to slow down anytime soon. Michigan is particularly positioned to fill this need with the Michigan Cyber Range Network—the nation’s largest unclassified cyber range, with hubs across the state offering more than 40 industry-recognized certifications, exercises and workshops aimed at qualifying individuals for positions in cyber security fields.

It is important for every company that wants to succeed in the Industry 4.0 future to map out its plans now and take steps to put those plans in motion. The MEDC and the state of Michigan continue to demonstrate a willingness to help companies of every kind make the investments that will keep growth and employment the envy of the world.

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