What’s next in manufacturing: ‘Industry 4.0,’ drone regulations


“Industry 4.0” is now more than just a buzzword—it’s becoming a vital concept for local manufacturers to embrace, industry leaders shared at the recent Tec-Next conference in Baton Rouge.

The event—hosted last week by multiple Louisiana-based manufacturing companies—gathered  chemical and petrochemical industry and technology experts for a TED-like conference, interspersed with technology demonstrations and roughly a dozen “Tec Talks” that covered  topics ranging from cybersecurity to augmented reality visual tools. Such discussion comes at a time when new technologies are changing and influencing heavy industry—although, according to an early Industry 4.0 report from McKinsey, U.S. manufacturers lag other nations in these technology transitions.

Next-generation technologies include tools supporting augmented reality, artificial intelligence, business intelligence, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), radio-frequency identification (RFID) and field mobility.

“The information is getting deeper than just operational efficiencies; for example, how do we stop repeat incidents?” said Paul Plauche, innovation lead at Turner Industries. “If you have these technologies in people’s hands, it’ll spoon-feed them invaluable information.”

Even with these technologies, however, there exists a “last mile” gap for local manufacturers, said Plauche, which Turner aims to close by putting devices in the hands of its workers. But there are some barriers to this strategy, including the cost of handheld devices—roughly five times greater than that of the computer itself—and difficulties with information sharing.

Another challenge likely to arise from this is the infrastructure security risk that comes with the prevalence of drones. During their talk, Dow’s Tommy Faucheaux and Scott Whelchel called for local governments to step up and establish solid regulatory framework for drone usage in their cities and parishes, taking advice from local industry experts.

“How do you know which ones are creating jobs, which ones are high school students’ projects and which ones are no good?” Faucheaux said, noting his native St. Charles Parish is drafting drone-related policy. “Local governments are trying to fill the void. It’s something we’re seeing being replicated across America.”

The conference was sponsored by ExxonMobil, as well as Turner Industries, MMR Group, Sparkhound, BASF, Dow Chemical, Antares, IBM and Louisiana Technology Park.