by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

As we close out 2023 and embark on 2024, I will make a bold prediction. If you are manufacturer in NWIRC’s 13 counties looking to grow more profitably, there is a very good chance that our organizations will engage in a smart manufacturing technology implementation project that will produce significant, measurable impact to your business and pay for itself in about a year. My confidence is based on industry data, our agnostic approach, and technology mini-grants.

Industry Data

In a 2023 survey of 1,350 manufacturers in 13 countries by Sapio Research and Rockwell Automation, 97% of respondents said they plan to use smart manufacturing technologies – which can include everything from robotics to the Internet of Things (IoT) – over the next one to two years. Statistics prove that manufacturers investing in new technologies set themselves apart from their competition. They’re able to take on more work from existing and new customers. They’re able to reposition and skill up existing employees and create exciting new career opportunities to better attract and retain talent needed to sustain profitable growth.

According to recent research by Zenoot, which explored the influences and impacts of business growth according to 2,450 business decision makers around the globe, there is a telling discrepancy between companies that invest in technology and those that don’t. Of those that reported strong business growth in the last 12 months, 57% prioritized IT investments, suggesting technology has played a key role in their success. Among companies with weak growth, however, just a fifth (20%) prioritized IT investment.

Our Agnostic Approach

While industry data clearly supports growing interests and investments in technology implementation to achieve success, the best road forward is not easily discerned. Determining what technology to implement, and where, is just the beginning. Factor in the lack of internal resources to evaluate, and knowledge of what options and providers exist, the task at hand becomes more complex. Add the reality, especially for small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs), that money to invest is limited and risk of failure is high. Making the final decision to move forward can be difficult, if not impossible.

As a mission-driven, not-for-profit public private partnership, NWIRC exists to help SMMs improve their competitiveness and grow more profitably. At the core of our success over 35 years is our independent, objective assessment of each situation and the vetting of expert resources and technologies for our clients to consider. In addition to saving time and money, we help reduce risks and will work with you to determine the success criteria to measure your return on investment. Our value proposition also includes project management to help ensure implementation success and client satisfaction.

Technology Mini-Grants

Over the years, NWIRC has pursued opportunities and received funding to offer mini-grants that help manufacturers offset costs of implementation projects to address specific areas of technical assistance deemed a priority. Mini-grants fuel decision making and improve the ROI. I’m pleased to announce that NWIRC, along with the other six Industrial Resource Centers (IRCs), and the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) as the lead applicant, have been awarded federal funding to help SMMs adopt smart manufacturing technologies and high-performance computing technologies (Industry 4.0). The funding, through the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Manufacturing and Energy Supply Chains (MESC), provides a reimbursement to SMMs to offset the costs for approved projects that focus on interconnectivity, automation, using real-time data to improve production, facilitating the adoption of advanced industrial robotics, artificial intelligence, and cycler security technologies.

You can look forward to hearing more about our efforts to assist SMMs through this grant as it also includes funding for awareness, education, and employee training to expand and diversify the smart manufacturing talent pool, to develop, promote and scale adoption of smart manufacturing training, and to promote innovation on the shop floor.I look forward to sharing in next month’s article another federal funding opportunity that we’ve been awarded to assist SMMs, also with a mini-grant component. In the meantime, if you would like more information about the SMART Manufacturing mini-grant program, reach out to NWIRC’s Mike Griffith (mgriffith@nwirc.org).