Tom Kelly is preparing for the revolution. And he wants Michigan to be prepared, too.
Technology is rapidly changing the way things are manufactured, and Kelly wants to make sure that Michigan's manufacturing companies are at the forefront of what some are calling the world's fourth industrial revolution—or Industry 4.0, as it's been coined.
As executive director of Automation Alley, Kelly has made it his job to convince the manufacturing industry to invest in Industry 4.0. The phrase was originally coined in Germany, where leaders of an economy similar to Michigan's had seen the writing on the wall and decided that they were going to have to embrace the disruptive technological changes poised to affect manufacturing. Big data, cloud technology, cyber security, 3D printing, autonomous robots, sensors and the Internet. Each of these is coming, all at the same time.
"The only way we'll be successful is if we understand and move very quickly to protect what we do very well," he says.
Kelly says Michigan needs to let the world know that it's not just a center of automotive and manufacturing technology, but of technology itself. And to do that, he says, the state needs to continue drawing the best minds in technology from all over the world.
A native of Syracuse, New York, Kelly was recruited to work at a Metro Detroit startup after college. After an MBA from the University of Michigan and a successful run up the corporate ladder, Kelly switched tracks and began to work for the state's Small Biz Tech Development Center of Michigan. Over the course of seven years, Kelly would advise roughly 300 startups, putting his combination of engineering and business acumen to use.
Kelly was then recruited to join Automation Alley. The advocacy agency was first thought up and launched in 1999 by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who wanted an organization to shine a light on how important technology was to the economy and how far advanced our region was in it. The organization has since gathered over 1,000 members and, though their focus has shifted to stay ahead of the times, it continues to advocate for Michigan technology and industry.
"We think that Industry 4.0 will be more impactful to job creation in Southeast Michigan than even autonomous vehicles," says Kelly. "Now we must win that, too, but factory automation is actually what is going to help us regain our footing in the world."
Kelly has spearheaded Automation Alley's focus on Industry 4.0 since he was named the executive director of the organization earlier this year. There's a significant shift in manufacturing, he says, and not just in automobiles, but also in everything from the defense industry to the produce industry.
Production is moving closer to the consumer, says Kelly, and that means there are jobs to be had. But even though manufacturing may get much more localized, it won't be in the manner of yesteryear. Those days are over and not worth grousing over, says Kelly.
In pointing to Industry 4.0, Kelly points to the future. And with Automation Alley, Kelly hopes to convince the area's manufacturers that it's a future worth investing in.
"We are positioned well to win the next battle. Stop fighting the battle from yesterday. That's over. But now, with the digitization of everything, we can win. So let's run like crazy down that path," says Kelly. "We're in great shape to do that."
Name and title: Tom Kelly, Executive Director
What is one interesting job you had before running Automation Alley: I worked for the Michigan Small Business Development Center as a Technology Business Consultant helping tech startups from conception through rapid growth. I advised over 300 companies in seven years, but what I learned from each of them in the process was priceless.
What's the most exciting thing about the technology industry today: I believe manufacturing will change more in the next five years than the last 50. Industry 4.0 will change everything, and future winners and losers are being determined today.
What's your favorite car of all time: '78 Pontiac Grand Prix with a Landau Top. It was the first car I ever had, and I remember that car and those days fondly.