Who's Behind Industry 4.0 in Manufacturing?

People and companies that produce new technology ultimately have a strong influence on the future of the industries where those technologies will be applied. In order to get an idea of the course of the next few years of development of smart technology in plastics, we took a look at 100 public professional profiles of people currently working on smart technology, industry 4.0, and industrial IoT. These are people from big manufacturers as well as smaller, newer companies looking to innovate*. Ultimately, this preliminary information points toward a future that looks a lot like the present.

To find relevant people working on smart technology in manufacturing, we scoured professional profile sites for job titles like Software Developer, Embedded Hardware Engineer, Data Scientist, Industrial IoT Technical Lead, Head of Industry 4.0, and CTO at companies that have taken positions as early leaders in developing smart technology. We limited the number of profiles to 100 so that we could look over the results ourselves while also pulling a big enough sample that we could start to see some of the emerging trends.

Here’s what we found:

Of the 100 professional profiles, 70 corresponded to engineers and developers working directly on technology every day. The remaining 30 are managers and executives that oversee teams of developers and engineers.

The majority of industry 4.0 professionals show a strong preference for staple embedded development tools while only a small minority has experience with networking, web development, and infrastructure. The bread and butter tools are C and C++ for firmware development, though there are many professionals with experience using Java to develop hardware systems. Roughly half as many people who use C/C++ daily also have experience with Python, Javascript, or other technologies that are often used for web development. Only one-third of the C/C++ users report that they have ever done any form of web development or networked computing. The vast majority of those with web development experience have only ever used .NET and basic Javascript frameworks. Overwhelmingly, the industry today uses Windows as opposed to Linux, which is typically more friendly to embedded development and large network infrastructure.

Of the 70 highly technical engineers, only 3 profess to having experience with Amazon Web Services and other infrastructure providers. This means that the typical hardware, software, or IoT engineer in the industry focuses mainly on producing new functionality on hardware devices themselves. This also means there are still huge existing opportunities to improve how quickly, securely, and easily new devices connect to the web and pass information from factories, machines, and devices to the cloud. The typical engineer innovates at the level of a specialized sensor or device but then struggles to get their new device to hook up to the Internet and play along with their other devices.

At this point, you may ask why the industry shows such a strong preference for this way of doing things. Based on the profiles we searched, we believe there are two major reasons:

First, out of the 30 managers we looked at more than two-thirds worked on their last hands-on technology development job more than five years ago. In the world of embedded, networked devices and industrial IoT, five years is a long, long time. In the last two years alone the options for available technologies have increased significantly, especially as bigger cloud providers have started moving toward simple, integrated systems for managing and developing new hardware device fleets. Because of their experience, many of the managerial level people in the industry today will probably continue to emphasize hardcore embedded development of the sensors and devices themselves. While this is certainly necessary, we here at Forward Loop believe there is still a lot of work that can be done on improving how those new devices then connect to and communicate with larger networks.

Second, industrial engineers who build new technology tend to stay at the same companies for long periods of time. More than 10% of the profiles we looked at showed people who had experience at just one company, and a significant fraction of those people had worked 5 or more years at that single employer. Fewer than 5% had experience as entrepreneurs or working at earlier stage companies focused on innovation. This means that the current generation of industrial engineers will maintain the same tools and processes for developing new technology into the future.

To be fair, the engineers and engineering managers at these technology companies show a strong interest in improving manufacturing practices. Even based on our limited survey it is clear that the industry has taken a strong liking to continuous improvement, Six Sigma methodologies, and other practices aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing waste gradually. While we here at Forward Loop fully support these efforts and see this adoption as a good sign, we also believe there remains vast, untapped potential for making devices easier to design, prototype, and put to use in larger, more complicated manufacturing applications.

Overall, the people who make new smart technology for manufacturing appear to be working on perfecting the tried and true methods. While many manufacturers innovate at the level of efficiency and gradual improvement, their experience points more toward better devices rather than better fleets of devices that are easier to develop, test, and deploy in a short period of time. For Industry 4.0 to make the impact the market perceives, there will have to be a better balance between optimized devices and networks.

Want to know more?
Get in touch at info@forward-loop.com

*Companies include:
Arburg, Audi, BASF, Berry Global, BMW, Bosch, Bridgr, Catepillar, Consultant for Industry 4.0, Continental AG, Coralina, Cyient, Engel, Faurecia, Foxconn China, GE Digital, GE Digital - Predix, GEA Group, Husky, Ingersoll Rand, Interwarp, ITECA, John Deere, Johnson Controls, Konux, KraussMaffei, MachineSense, Medulla, Mentat Innovations, New Hope Data, Nortal, Nypro, Oden, Panasonic, Plastic Omnium, Progressive Components, Proto Labs, Research Institute , Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Sight Machine, Stanley Black & Decker, Uptake, Volkswagen, Western Digital