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Evolving a Legacy Industry: Iowa's approach to manufacturing 4.0

March 21, 2022
Evolving a Legacy Industry: Iowa's approach to manufacturing 4.0

This story originally appeared on Supply Chain Dive.

Iowa's history of supplying global markets with an array of goods – from food products to aerospace electronics – has positioned the state as a national leader in advanced manufacturing, generating more than $16 billion worth of exported goods and accounting for 17 percent of the state's GDP.

Research led by Iowa's public and private sector leaders revealed the need for a shift to continue the industry's momentum. Findings concluded that Iowa's advanced manufacturing businesses must continue adapting to the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) and its emphasis on smart technology, data-driven operations and process automation. 

In response, Iowa formed an industry-led Manufacturing 4.0 initiative. The resulting strategic plan introduced in February 2020 outlined five priorities to help Iowa adapt to Industry 4.0's challenges of adopting technology, increasing productivity and competing for talent amid ongoing globalization in advanced manufacturing. The state responded swiftly with robust action plans to address all five priorities. Highlights include: 

  • Manufacturing 4.0 Tech Adoption and Utilization: Partnerships with Iowa's research universities and community colleges provide a variety of resources to help manufacturers acquire and integrate Industry 4.0 technologies. For example, Iowa State's Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) offers a Manufacturing 4.0 assessment that evaluates a company's technical capabilities, identifies Industry 4.0 technologies that best align with business needs and develops customized action plans to expedite implementation. 
  • Enabling Infrastructure for Digital Technologies: Adopting Industry 4.0 technologies requires increased bandwidth, latency requirements and the ability to manage Big Data and advanced analytics. Iowa's latest infrastructure initiatives are expanding high-speed broadband into the state's rural areas through a new grant program, thereby meeting the digital needs of even more manufacturers.
  • Improving Supply Chain Linkages: Industry 4.0 technology adoption is often handed down from larger manufacturers or original equipment manufacturers to small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) through supply chain relationships. The soon-to-be-launched Supplier Connection Portal will allow Iowa-based businesses to post and respond to request for quotes (RFQs) and connect with other manufacturers in the state to enhance Iowa's supply chain. 
  • Accelerating Manufacturing Startups and Scale-Ups: Iowa's manufacturing industry cluster is characterized not only by innovation among legacy manufacturers, but the ability to support new startups and to enable them to scale. The Technology Investment Program provides grants that fund this innovation and fuel productivity for emerging companies. 
  • Ensuring an Effectively Trained Manufacturing 4.0 Workforce: Manufacturing 4.0 technologies have profoundly changed the nature of job functions in the modern "smart" factory. Initiatives such as the Industry 4.0 consortium and Future Ready Iowa provide manufacturers with a suite of best-in-class training programs to keep their workforce on the cutting edge of the industry. Iowa also recently announced $20 million in Manufacturing 4.0 Workforce Innovation Program grants awarded to 46 companies across the state.

Iowa's Manufacturing 4.0 plan and Technology Investment grants are geared toward smaller enterprises such as Trinity Fabricators, a family-owned structural steel fabricator in New Albin, Iowa. Trinity is responsible for more than 100,000 pounds of steel per day and notably serves as the sole manufacturer of structural steel beams for Kum & Go convenience stores. 

Looking to overcome workforce challenges and incorporate more efficient processes, the company was awarded a $25,000 Manufacturing Innovation Equipment grant to purchase a CNC plasma cutter, which measures and cuts plate steel with high precision. This investment resulted in a 35-40% productivity increase in the two months since acquiring the equipment and not only enhanced the cut quality, but also freed up Trinity's fabricators to complete other mission critical tasks.

Learn more about how Iowa's Manufacturing 4.0 initiative can benefit your business at For a deeper dive into the plan's strategies and initiatives, download the Manufacturing 4.0 Plan Executive Summary.