Smart City

Smart City Sentinel

Manufacturing Is Growing in Charlotte with Industry 4.0 Driving New IoT Careers

By Cynthia S. Artin

Despite ongoing concerns about job losses in manufacturing throughout the United States, Charlotte, North Carolina’s manufacturing jobs rose 26 percent over the last year, generating over $40 billion in economic impact within the 16-county Greater Charlotte Region, and supporting 31 percent of the regional economy.

According to a report by North Carolina State University, manufacturing has been the biggest factor in the state’s economic growth coming out of the recession, with two major manufacturing companies, Jeld-Wen and Genpak, relocating to Charlotte to take advantage of the region’s beautiful surroundings, blend of urban, town and rural lifestyles, global access, a well-educated talent pool, affordability and overall quality of life.

As nearly every manufacturing company is instrumenting its facilities with technology that improves safety, quality and yield, modern manufacturing plants are being enhanced by companies in the software, networking and high-tech space, creating a parallel boon in the region, as a microcosm of “Industry 4.0.”

The Charlotte Region is home to several advanced manufacturing companies operating on a global scale, including Daimler Trucks, the top manufacturing employer in Charlotte, with 3 Charlotte area plants employing over 5,000 people. Daimler provides Engineering advanced solutions that improve how people interact with trucks, and how trucks interact with the world.

On the technology front, President and CEO of Daimler Trucks Roger Nielsen reported that sales of Freightliner Cascadias with Detroit Assurance (Daimler’s proprietary advanced safety system) grew by 89 percent with a 66 percent penetration rate on new Cascadias within the United States. To continue to drive equipment technology forward, Nielsen stated that Daimler Trucks will invest $616.5 million in 2018-2019 for the research and development in electric mobility, connectivity and automated driving for trucks.

The Corporate Headquarters of Albemarle Corporation, a leading global producer of catalyst solutions and performance chemicals, has its global headquarters in Charlotte, and serves customers in approximately 100. In late September 2018, it announced a $20 million investment with Bank of America to drive economic mobility in Charlotte – demonstrating its strong dedication to the region’s growth.

Albemarle (NYSE: ALB), is a global specialty chemicals company with leading positions in lithium, bromine and refining catalysts, and works with the world's largest and most critical industries, from energy and communications to transportation and electronics.

Patrick Thompson, CIO of Albemarle Corporation, has spoken on the company’s journey to reinvent IT.  Albemarle has a 3-tiered approach starting at the infrastructure layer, building into the business processes and completing with digital plant automation.

Groninger, a German-based company with 1,200 employees and 8,500 machines installed and operating globally, opened their U.S. facility in Charlotte in 2012. Groninger offers a robust apprenticeship program to improve the skilled labor workforce in Charlotte, and earlier this year announced their INTEGRA lite series (a compact and flexible semi-automated solution for companies in the cosmetic and consumer health industries) can handle up to 45 parts per minute, as an IoT-ready, industrial PC-controlled system, with a customizable conveyor, multi-language HMI clinical version, and app-based monitoring.

“Charlotte-based companies are at the forefront of Industry 4.0,” said Bob Morgan, President and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber. “Charlotte is at the cutting edge for Industry 4.0 innovations. For example, Schaeffler is transforming its supply chain using new digital methods, and Electrolux is developing the most advanced home appliances. These two Charlotte-based companies are working alongside other leaders in Industry 4.0 to transform the way advanced manufacturing products interact with the world.”

The Greater Charlotte region is home to Schaeffler's North American headquarters. In 2016, Schaeffler partnered with IBM to use IBM Watson AI technology to transform its supply chain and manufacturing process. More recently, in April 2018, they revealed the “Schaeffler Mover”, an urban vehicle concept aimed at preparing rapidly growing metropolitan areas for future mobility requirements.

Electrolux, a Swedish-based company, operates an 800-employee research and development center out of University City in Charlotte. The home appliance company recently partnered with Google Home to improve voice-activated home appliances; the technology has already been integrated into Electrolux brands Anova and Fridgidaire. The company also recently launched smart home products like the Purei9robot vacuum and the smart AC, AirFlower.

In addition to large global enterprises, Charlotte’s start-up community is vibrant and growing, supporting smaller companies growing quickly and providing software and services to big businesses.

A few examples include:

  • NetFoundry is the pioneer of Application Specific Networking, enabling you to deploy secure, high performance networks on-demand, over the Internet, as quickly and powerfully as you spin up cloud compute and virtual machines. NetFoundry’s AppWANs are developer-first and application-integrated, enabling customers to meet their digital transformation needs over any set of networks and clouds, without needing to overhaul their WANs or change network providers.  NetFoundry is a software-only solution which works with any Internet access provider, enabling telco-free, decentralized innovation.
  • SignUpGenius simplifies the process of coordinating events and people by providing online sign -ups for nonprofits, schools, sports, churches, families, colleges, businesses and organizations. By enabling up to 14 million unique visitors per month to sign up for tasks online, SignUpGenius has done away with the need for paper sign ups, "reply-all" emails and phone trees.
  • Stratifyed is a B2B tech company located in Charlotte, NC and is fundamentally changing the way brands analyze the voice of the consumer. By enabling real time visibility into what customers are saying, Stratifyed reduces the time to value and allow brands to make business decisions quickly.
  • Skookum creates digital products that help your business modernize technology, optimize user experiences, and innovate throughout the product life cycle. Skookum offers the following services: digital strategy and customer experience, rapid innovation and prototyping, collaborative services and software development.
  • Passport transforms the way cities manage their operations. The company’s mobile-first platform has been adopted by more than 550 cities, universities, and private operators around the world in cities including Chicago, Toronto, London, and Miami, across more than 5,000 locations. Passport’s product lines – parking, transit and tolling payments, parking enforcement, and permit management – enable organizations in the public and private sectors to streamline their operations, enhance customer service, and make data-driven decisions.

“Charlotte – and its companies – invest in the high-quality talent needed to fuel the industry’s growth,” said Morgan.  “Higher education in the Greater Charlotte region is focused on creating a strong talent pool for the advanced manufacturing industry. UNC Charlotte, and the 10 local community colleges, work closely with regional manufacturers to train their future workforce.”

In addition to UNC Charlotte's large manufacturing campus, Siemens Energy donated $2 million to the university to build the Siemens Large Manufacturing Solutions Lab in 2015.

UNC Charlotte is also home to The Center for Precision Metrology, which works with industrial partners on the research, development and integration of precision metrology in manufacturing.

Gaston College offers students 11 different degrees and programs to prepare for a career in advanced manufacturing. It is also home to the Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) – an $8 million facility that houses a collection of different labs and training spaces for robotics, mechatronics and other manufacturing-related fields to prepare students for tomorrow’s advanced manufacturing jobs.

“It takes a community to build a community,” said Ronnie Bryant, President and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership. “We’re extremely proud of the progress we’re making in the Charlotte region, with world-class companies and exciting new start-ups. The combination of digital technology and physical manufacturing has found a perfect crossroads here in North Carolina.”

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Contributing Writer

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