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Industry 4.0 Deep Dive Panel explores the future of manufacturing in Iowa

The Iowa Technology Summit returned this week and introduced a brand new track—”Industry 4.0″.

Industry 4.0 is the automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology. Earlier this year, the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and Iowa Innovation Council released the state’s Manufacturing 4.0 plan, a 120-page report commissioned by IEDA and prepared by TEConomy Partners. The report, Seizing the Manufacturing 4.0 Opportunity: A Strategic Plan for Iowa’s Manufacturing Industry, lays out a roadmap to help Iowa manufacturers remain globally competitive through a fourth industrial revolution that emphasizes automation and smart technology.

As part of the Industry 4.0 track was a session titled “Industry 4.0 Deep Dive” where a panel of technology experts discussed Industry 4.0 updates and future-forward ideas regarding the manufacturing industry.

Among the panelists were Debi Durham, Director of the IEDA & Iowa Finance Authority; Hank Norem, President of Ramco Innovations; and Emily Schmitt, Chief Administrative Officer of Sukup Manufacturing. Mike O’Donnell, Associate Director of Ciras at Iowa State University, moderated the panel.

“Industry 4.0 for us is really looking at smart manufacturing and leveraging tools to help us do that,” said Norem. “Robotics, sensors, anything to automate the plant floor. The goal is really to collect data and automate processes so that we can have more intelligent and operational effectiveness going forward for our manufacturers.

Earlier this month, the Iowa State Legislature passed a bill that will create a Manufacturing 4.0 Grant Program to help Iowa manufacturers compete globally and award financial assistance to manufacturers needing support. The grants will be eligible to companies with three to 75 employees that have had a manufacturing facility in Iowa for at least three years and get at least 50 percent of revenue from manufacturing. The maximum amount of financial assistance awarded to a manufacturer will be $75,000.

“We’re requiring anyone that comes in for assistance from this new funding to do an assessment with CIRAS,” said Durham. “Because we need to make sure that what we’re funding actually progress them along this Industry 4.0 journey.”

“It’s important to realize you don’t have to do it all at once. Just taking one step at a time and prioritizing where that biggest bang for your buck will be,” said Schmitt. “And there are many different resources here in Iowa that can help you get there.”

“We always focus on new job creation. We’re going to have to shift that kind of thinking in manufacturing. Its not how many new jobs you’re going to create but, as we adopt these new technologies and make these huge capital investments in our plants, how do we relook at our training dollars in a more robust way,” said Durham.

Previous coverage

Iowa community colleges, CIRAS announce statewide manufacturing technology consortium –May 12, 2021

Governor Reynolds, IEDA announce manufacturing roadmap for Iowa -Feb. 16, 2021

Industry 4.0 Deep Dive Panel explores the future of manufacturing in Iowa | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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