I recently applied for a job at Automation Alley. It’s a Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in Detroit, MIchigan. A Michigan boy myself, I remember the sign for Automation Alley on the free way as I would drive out of Detroit, and into the suburbs. It’s a staple of the metro Detroit area.
I’ve been fortunate. I also worked at another major staple of automotive in Detroit – the Center for Automotive Research. This industry research center is at the forefront of changes to the automotive industry, and the people working here are absolute geniuses.
While conducting industry research into the automation – note, automation and automotive are similar but not the same – industry, I learned so much about the breaking trends that are shaping American and global manufacturing right now.
Reading industry insights from McKinsey, Deloitte, Accenture, Ernst & Young, and many more of America’s best companies, I learned about so many industry technologies that are changing the world:
- Advanced analytics
- Big data and Open data
- Robotics and Cobotics
- Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
- Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Industry 4.0 – The 4th Industrial Revolution
- And more
As a person with an extensive background in automotive, I can tell you that these technologies are already prevalent in both advanced manufacturing and automotive factories everywhere in the world.
What’s interesting is that Detroit is a little slow to adopt all of these technologies, and my guess is that’s intentional.
Detroit understands automation better than anyone else, and it’s my opinion that Detroit also understands the human condition better than any other city.
Bear with me, for that statement isn’t necessarily popular.
You might think that Los Angeles understands the human condition as it acts it out on the silver screen.
But Detroit built America.
Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company built the middle class, so there would be sufficient people with enough wealth to buy a car.
Pardon me for supporting the automotive titans, because after so many hundreds of millions of road miles that their cars have driven, and paying attention both to home and destination, Ford, GM and Chrysler have gotten a sense of who the people are that drive the cars.
And especially, they understand what drives them.
Sure, part of that is to know how to sell them cars better, but I’d go so far as to say that when you are a car manufacturer, you love your customers a little bit.
You care for them.
Want what’s best for them.
Get them into good schools.
Get them a good job.
So when Industry 4.0 and the 4th industrial revolution take way, the Big 3 are skeptical.
“I already know how to build the best car.”
“Too much technology isn’t a good thing.”
“People don’t want to drive a computer, they want to drive a car.”
Now, as I do my research into automation, to prepare for my job interview on Thursday, I am reminded that – maybe – the carmakers in Detroit are right on the money.
They have built fancy, futuristic cars before.
But they are careful when they note the distrust in the consumer with a car that’s too high-tech.
It’s all about the consumer.
So, when it comes to automation, and technologies such as artificial intelligence in the manufacturing industry, or machine learning in the factory, or robotics on the assembly line, you can imagine that manufacturers are agreeing, too.
To be sure, consulting companies such as McKinsey do recommend increasing efficiencies, and embracing complexity along the value chain.
And the 3A combo of AI, automation, and analytics are a big part of the 4th Industrial Revolution that is underway right now.
But we are reminded by Ford’s skepticism that there are issues with taking 3A technologies too far.
So as we embrace Industry 4.0, and become experts in it, let’s factor in that in this new century, the technology only gets more advanced.
Maybe we’ve hit a sweet spot in terms of computational power.
It doesn’t need to get any more powerful.
Even though we might expect it to.
The Apple Phone should be the same in 100 years, as it is today.
We don’t need anything too fancy.
Just a phone with internet and apps is sufficient.
The limits of 3A technologies have to do with human beings, American and otherwise, wanting a human experience that’s as authentically American and authentically human as compared to something too futuristic and complex.
We want to drive a Ford on the highway.
Not a computer.