Attend an industry conference this year, and you’ll hear all about Industry 4.0, which affects almost all industries due to rapid technological advancements.

In the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industry, it’s no different. Technologies are changing how people work, how we look at data, and how products are made.

Check out some common Industry 4.0 concepts to learn more.

How can we remain competitive?

The information on this page defines the terms, but is primarily focused on how these things will affect workforce development in Washington – how and where will people be trained in these areas so that we can remain competitive?

Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing

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3D printing

3D Printing is being used in aerospace manufacturing to create parts that are lightweight using additive manufacturing which are made from polymers (synthetic plastics and resins) and metals (titanium and others). In producing a printed part, it can be made in one piece, instead of many pieces that must be assembled together. In addition, any type of design can be created in a CAD program that can be used in parts production. 3D printing is here, and is actively used in today’s manufacturing environment.

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Manufacturers are naturally drawn toward automation because it can become a cost savings and can improve quality. Automation is the use of equipment, sometimes in the form of robotics, on the production floor. Automation often allows for faster production at a lower cost. The first question people ask about automation is, “How many jobs will be lost because of it?” Interestingly, although there may be initial job loss the biggest change is that jobs are becoming more intellectually-based. While, some manual labor jobs may be lost; jobs in Mechatronics will be gained.


Communication has recently been reported as a high need with Washington’s aerospace manufacturers. It is the ability to be clear and concise in writing and speaking, and to share a relevant message. Communication is often considered a soft skill that is lacking in many businesses alongside timeliness and professional behavior. However, all companies need employees that can read and interpret complex information, and create something useful from it in a cost-effective manner. Teaching basic writing, listening, and speaking skills to employees can slow down production in the plant.


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Rapid advancement of technological changes is causing a disruption in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industry. As companies have adopted ERP systems, and new technologies in the plant, it is a chain reaction each time a new innovation is introduced. For example, if a company has embraced new CNC equipment, costing tens of thousands, and then they determine that 3D printing would be a better and more cost-effective approach, there is another change! Disruption in today’s manufacturing plant is guaranteed!


Today’s factory is rapidly changing, due to technology, in the following areas:

• Product design and development – reduction in time to market
• Supply chain – improvement in forecasting accuracy
• Manufacturing and quality – improvement in labor productivity
• Distribution and service – which will result in reduction in cost, improvement in quality


Those that don’t innovate will…Fill in the blanks.

Every business publication online talks about the failure of companies to adapt and innovate. It is an Internet thing, but it’s more than that. The nature of innovation will be more rapid than at any time in history. It has been said that the innovations of the 1900s will be surpassed in the 2000s within 10 years, instead of 100.

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Process Flow

In product production, there are three types of process flow to determine:  continuous flow, custom manufacturing, and fixed position manufacturing. (Ref: In aerospace, while there are production lines – where a product moves through stages; the general process flow will be custom manufacturing (for smaller pieces/parts/components), or fixed position manufacturing for a larger piece, like a wing assembly.


Reporting on data outcomes will continue to increase. There may be a time where nothing is done without qualified data assessment. At this time, the data exists, but it seems early to assume that all data collected today is being used to make intelligent decisions. Just as Google Analytics gave website data a way to thrive, things like enterprise software systems will help those in forecasting, sales, and production management to buy and produce the right amount of raw materials and products as needed.

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Notice those that you are competing with. If you can make a component, but they can add paint to it, and wrap it in a nice box, they are scaling up at a rapid pace. Being able to adapt, remain flexible, and scale up to meet competition is business critical.



Security of data and computer systems is a big concern for today’s manufacturing companies. With millions invested in the development of systems in-house, the technology must be protected. If facility security was imperative in the 1990s, data and systems security is the current norm.

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Augmented Reality

The applications for augmented reality in manufacturing can be best understood in an engineering capacity. Using Microsoft HoloLens (or a tablet), an image – or design schematic – can be projected into a room. A drawing of a manufactured part, for example can be projected into an area and manipulated using hand movements. Design engineers can create together on a larger scale with the model in front of them, instead of on a computer screen.


Big Data

In the manufacturing realm, big data often is being captured in the company CRM or another software that manages projects, production, staffing, trends, analytics, and machinery data. Big data can be used to predict factory trends and can help with forecasting. If a manufacturer wants to find out if they can add onto the factory, they will look at big data to determine if the forecast and analysts recommend a new investment.


cost savings

Cost Savings

There are thousands of parts and an equal number of vendors in aircraft production. At the end of the day, the OEM – Boeing or Airbus needs to sell their product at the best possible price. Therefore, cost savings are imperative to aircraft manufacturing and production. In a perfect world where all vendors, and the OEM are working optimally, then cost savings will occur. However, when everyone is in a new state of flux with regard to technology, training labor, and increased costs of doing business – it makes cost savings a continual challenge.

Understanding business and economics is important to all manufacturers because then it may be easier to offer cost savings to customers.

Data Bus

Data Bus

A Data Bus is the movement of information within a computer or electronic system. In the world of Big Data and crunching of data, the movement of data must be organized. A Data Bus contains wires and software for moving information within the company computer system.


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The concept of Centers of Excellence has become prolific in manufacturing. In Washington state, Centers of Excellence started about 12 years ago with the idea of aligning the community and technical college system – as an arm of workforce development – with industry. The result would be a better understanding of industry needs, and how colleges can train to those needs.

Today, there are Centers of Excellence starting up in many community colleges, as well as within industry segments. People are realizing the value in the communication between two parties. Additionally, Centers can serve as a research arm for new technologies, hiring, and training.

Learn more about Washington’s Centers of Excellence:


Adaptability of machinery and workforce are the two greatest factors of flexibility in manufacturing. This might include an investment in systems, or a reduction in process through a LEAN assessment. One thing is for sure, despite order predicting forecasts, past recessions have taught us that flexibility is critical in today’s world manufacturing market.

Production Line

The production line of the future will include fewer people and more automation. However, that doesn’t mean that jobs will be lost. It does mean that workforce training and education will change. More training in IT, robotics, systems, and fixing computers will become more of the norm. If anything, the jobs will become more intelligent and educated. Assembly positions will likely disappear in the United States, so those in that role now should be thinking about going back to school.

Task List

In today’s manufacturing environment, productivity is the way to lower costs as a supplier. Many organizations are using task list management software that allows the company to assign, delegate and complete tasks. It provides a track record of what has occurred for future projects. Creating tasks lists can help keep projects on track.

Value Chain

Understanding the Value Chain is an action for a company that will ensure that they can make and sell their products at the best prices. It is similar to an assessment of lean manufacturing, where the best possible outcome is envisioned for the customer, and you look back through the value of each activity to ensure that it is time and cost efficient, and produces the best results.

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Virtual Reality

Through a headset that covers the eyes, called a VR Headset, the user is transported to another place. It’s like being inside a full immersion video game, with sound and sight. This differs from Mixed Reality, which is what Microsoft HoloLens offers where you can position an object into a live view of a room or place using a headset.