Milwaukee is home to a variety of leading manufacturers, including A.O. Smith, Briggs & Stratton, GE Healthcare, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Controls, Komatsu Mining, Master Lock, Modine and Rexnord. It’s also home to an organization that’s at the forefront of Industry 4.0 research.

The Connected Systems Institute (CSI) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) is developing new ways to integrate digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, data analytics, digital twins and robotics, into next-generation manufacturing.

“Many manufacturers are still using legacy technologies that are not very efficient,” says Kaushal Chari, CSI’s interim executive director and dean of UWM’s business school. “There is a need to transition to digital manufacturing and adopt Industry 4.0 technology.

“Our mission is to develop the workforce of the future through education and training,” explains Chari. “CSI works to support the development of a tech-savvy workforce, to spearhead cutting-edge Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) research, and to help small- and medium-sized businesses harness the power of the IIoT for greater productivity.

“One of the most important and most competitive industries in Wisconsin is manufacturing,” notes Chari, who has a background in mechanical engineering. “It employs hundreds of thousands of workers and accounts for 19 percent of our state’s gross domestic product. But, to remain competitive, manufacturing has to continue to adapt.”

According to Chari, in the next five years, manufacturing is set to change more than it has in the last 50 years because of connected technologies that analyze data streaming from factory equipment to the IIoT.

“CSI harnesses the power of the internet—using machines to talk to each other, providing huge amounts of data to use to create more efficient and profitable operations through connected business platforms,” Chari points out. “The big data that devices collect and share on the IIoT have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing.”

The goal of CSI is to develop IIoT-based models and technologies that promote greater productivity. The two-year-old organization is heavily sponsored by Rockwell Automation Inc., another Milwaukee-based company with a strong manufacturing heritage. Other organizations actively involved with CSI include Ansys, Fanuc, Microsoft and PTC Technologies.

“The CSI is a multidisciplinary collaborative center that includes faculty from business, engineering and information sciences,” says Chari. “By providing undergraduate, graduate, professional and executive education, research and programs, the institute develops talent, expertise and solutions to lead companies to greater productivity through IIoT technologies and applications.”

Located in the east wing of the UWM library, the 10,000-square-foot CSI facility houses innovative technology that manufacturers need to digitally transform and implement Industry 4.0. And, it offers workforce training that local manufacturers need to successfully transition into the digital era.

The facility includes a cybersecurity lab, a digital twin lab and a small factory that showcases Industry 4.0 technology. The latter is an interactive “test bed” that features state-of-the-art production equipment for hands-on learning.

The production line was designed, constructed and integrated by APT Manufacturing Solutions. It features real-world equipment such as a Rockwell MagneMotion conveyor and several different types of Fanuc robots, including delta, SCARA and six-axis machines.

“The test bed introduces machine learning to the production line and takes orders from SAP software, automatically generating work orders,” says Chari. “A digital test bed documents the physical test bed’s behaviors so that irregularities can be spotted, but it also allows for experimentation.”

Digital twin technology plays an important role at CSI, which provides several types of tools to students, including Ansys TwinBuilder, Emulate3D and PTC Vuforia.

“Our digital twins are based on the physical test bed,” explains Chari. “Students use the technology to try different parameters and inputs virtually to see how they impact various production processes, in addition to key performance indicators, quality and throughput. Once they hone and refine parameters, they can go test it out on the real platform. We also use digital twins to conduct research projects.

“Digital twins enable emulation of a machine or a plant using CAD models and general physics simulations,” explains Chari. “Hardware-in-loop emulations [enable users] to test out automation programs in a virtual environment that can be represented in a computer screen via 3D animations or virtual environments where humans can walk around using virtual-reality headsets. The virtual environment enables full interaction with the machine or plant, including control panels.

“CSI’s next test bed will be focused on cybersecurity,” adds Chari. “We need to ensure that automated production lines are protected and that students know how to do that.”

In addition, Chari and his colleagues are currently in the process getting two new Industry 4.0-related masters programs, which he claims will be the first of their kind in the United States. One will offer an M.S. in connected systems, while the other will feature an M.S. in digital supply chain. The current plan is to enroll students in the new programs beginning Fall 2023.

“The connected systems coursework will cover things such as asset management, cybersecurity and data analytics,” explains Chari. “It will be a very holistic degree program that will prepare graduate students to embark on Industry 4.0 careers.

“The digital supply chain program will focus on things such as enterprise resource planning software,” Chari points out. “The curriculum will also include IIoT technology related to blockchains and sensors.”