Research universities are uniquely important for the innovation economy. And, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institute, “downtown universities punch above their weight as economic anchors for both the regions in which they are located and the nation.” For industries, these schools are the help they need to successfully deploy Enterprise 4.0 technology such as automation, AI, and the Internet of Things.
And that is the role the University of Louisville has formalized with its new Center for Organizational Readiness towards Enterprise 4.0. Backed by a new roughly $500,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the center will provide research, assessment, recommendations, and workforce development to industries looking to adopt — or adapt to — the disruptive technology at the core of the fourth industrial revolution.
We spoke to UofL researcher Faisal Aqlan, who runs the center along with colleagues Lihui Bai, who leads UofL’s Logistics and Distribution Institute (LoDI); Dr. Kunai Kate; and Will Metcalf, the associate vice president for Research and Innovation at UofL.
First, define Enterprise 4.0 for us.
Aqlan: Think of a smart factory, where all the machines can talk to each other and anticipate or even address problems. Similar changes have happened in logistics and healthcare, where smart, connected technologies have helped increase productivity and accuracy, lower labor costs and improve safety. These technologies can greatly improve operations, but they have to be implemented correctly.
Tell us about the role the University of Louisville will play.
Metcalf: Technologies are being implemented by manufacturers, logistics companies, healthcare organizations, and so on throughout the world. For Kentucky to maintain our status as leaders in manufacturing and healthcare, we have to help them adapt new technologies to remain competitive.
That’s really the thesis behind this project: These technologies are here and the people who can develop a comprehensive strategy for how to implement them, which includes hiring talent, financing, and so on, will be ready to implement them, and they’re going to win. The Center is going to help our manufacturing and healthcare industry base grow and thrive into this new domain.
Aqlan: One of the ideas is to work with industry on assessing their technology needs. And then if a specific company wants to do robotics, we’ll connect them with Larri [Louisville Automation & Robotics Research Institute]. If they need some help with logistics, we’ll connect them with LoDI, who does that. Once we identify those key needs, then we will be able to conduct more meaningful workshops or training.
Will you train people in the technology a company wants to roll out?
Bai: In the first year, we’ll focus more on developing our assessment model and being able to identify bottlenecks. As we get more industry assessment projects done, we will identify the common needs from across industries. Once we identify those key needs, then we will be able to conduct more meaningful workshops and train talent.
Will you also focus on healthcare?
Metcalf: Yes, but that will be down the road. Healthcare needs to adapt and adopt these technologies the same way manufacturing does. For example, connected devices or a smart room or smart hospital: What should that look like? And how will it impact the way that healthcare is delivered? Nursing staffing shortages are sweeping the nation right now and the traditional models of delivery of care have to change and adopt this emerging tech to be able to care for all the people who need care.
Aqlan: Someone just emailed me yesterday from the medical school asking about the implementation of blockchain in healthcare.
What has been the Center’s reception so far among local industries?
Bai: I’m the co-director of LoDI. Some of our LoDI board members are executives of GE Appliances, for example. In our meetings, they have talked about how the university could help them. They mentioned that with so many technologies around nowadays, they really sometimes struggled to find the right technology for their company. It can be overwhelming for them when product marketing people pitch to them. We can help them identify what is the right technology for where they want to be.