New IALR lab to feature ‘automagic’ manufacturing tech

Tim Thornton

Butch Kendrick is prepping the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s Industry 4.0 Lab for a December opening. Photo by Hannah King

Butch Kendrick once worked in a factory making plywood suitcase components. Each time he ran a strip of plywood through a planer, he heard a loud, screeching whine. “I would hear that noise in my head until I went to sleep,” Kendrick says. “And I’ve never forgot that. Anyone who works in manufacturing, if I can do anything to improve their life and give them a better job, I want to do it.”

Now director of digital manufacturing at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s Center for Manufacturing Advancement in Danville, Kendrick thinks the IALR’s new Industry 4.0 Lab will do just that.

“Industry 4.0” refers to the fourth Industrial Revolution, marked by advanced manufacturing and other technological advances in automation, analytics, robotics and connectivity. The lab is intended to demonstrate Industry 4.0 concepts such as how robots and manufacturing machines can complete tasks without human involvement.

Robots carry material to machines that perform a task and then carry the part to the next stations in the manufacturing process, communicating wirelessly in a way that Kendrick calls “automagic.” The $1.6 million 2,500-square-foot lab should be fully functional in mid-December, Kendrick says, adding, however, “if we’re true to our guns, we’ll never be done.” As technology evolves, the lab must evolve, too, he says.

The lab will show manufacturers “how to automate their processes in a strategic way to ultimately optimize their production,” according to the IALR’s chief operating officer for manufacturing advancement, Tim Robertson.

Since the system gathers data as it operates, it will provide raw material for even more optimization — and help people interpret that data. “You have to have some intelligence built into the process in order to parse that down to get it into a more useable form,” Kendrick says, “so humans can understand what they’re looking at, basically.”

The lab will also prepare people to work with Industry 4.0 tech and concepts. “We know that one of the biggest challenges with rolling out these new processes and automation in Industry 4.0 is just having the people that have been exposed to and can contribute to that in a meaningful way,” Robertson says.

“One thing’s for sure,” Kendrick says. “It’s going to get rid of the monotonous type of work that people used to do.


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