Preface to the book “The Smart Student’s Guide to Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0”

© 2021 Industrial Insights LLC

A Fresh Look at Manufacturing
If you are a student in the United States, there is a good chance that you are not considering a manufacturing career in your future. You probably don’t have close friends or family working in the industry and few popular shows feature it. My advice is, do not overlook it!

This book will introduce you to exciting career opportunities that smart manufacturing provides today. It’s why I capitalize it in this book: Smart Manufacturing.

Manufacturing suffers an image problem due to decades of failed national policies that allowed U.S. manufacturers to move to other parts of the world. With the ensuing closures of many factories, local and state communities experienced much hardship. This history of the manufacturing industry has created a deeply negative impression. What parents would encourage their children to work at the company that laid off Grandpa after thirty-seven years of service and avoided paying his pension?

Adding to this common wisdom among most Americans, a few facts further depress the image of manufacturing.

First, the overall number of people working in U.S. manufacturing has been declining. The reason is that around the year 2000, national policies adopted a global supply chain philosophy that manufacturing didn’t have to exist within U.S. shores.

Second, the number of people working in manufacturing as a percentage of overall jobs is currently the lowest in U.S. history.

Third, manufacturing output as a percentage of gross national product is also at its lowest point in history.

But are those negative headlines and perceptions the whole story? Consider another fact. Manufacturing output, which is essentially the amount of goods made in America, rises every year. The U.S. now produces more products than at any other time in history.

Smart Manufacturing, also referred to as Industry 4.0, is starting to shake up the previous worldwide business model of off-shoring manufacturing operations to areas with low labor rates by making labor rates less relevant. Smart Manufacturing is growing. You have an opportunity to join the industry as it reinvents itself.

In the past, the picture that manufacturing conjured was a large number of people lined up to perform manual and often repetitive tasks all day long. The operations could be simple, such as inserting one material into another, or complex, such using a lathe to shape a spinning metal piece. If you search for pictures of manufacturing online, you are likely to find black and white photos of huge plants with hundreds of workers shoulder-to-shoulder at work. Unlike these depictions, manufacturing today evokes very different images.

Smart Manufacturing refers to the most modern way of making entities involving automated and high-tech devices developed with advanced technology. Do you like to play video games? The software engines that display game graphics are also utilized in manufacturing. Do you text on a smartphone? That technology is used for machines to communicate with other machines. These are just two examples. Industry 4.0 is the term that the world uses to describe the revolution of manufacturing created by technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided a wake-up call for the world as supply chains proved to be shockingly fragile during this worldwide crisis. The result has been an acceleration of reshoring efforts in the U.S. Factories that were taken offshore decades ago are being brought back given the benefit of manufacturing and supply chain management being in close proximity. It is expected that two million or more jobs could be created within the next seven years.

This book will provide you with a unique viewpoint to identify manufacturing opportunities you may not have considered. I will lead you through an exploration of how Smart Manufacturing works and the specific technologies that you could focus upon for a career. The following is a snapshot of each section in the book.

Section I: Current State of Manufacturing in the USA
In this section, I describe the widespread misconceptions about manufacturing that negatively influence decisions to pursue a career in the field. Government policies, especially at the federal level, exacerbate the perception that manufacturing is a dying occupation, causing many people to avoid recommending or pursuing careers in the industry. In contrast to the prevailing beliefs, I then describe how modern manufacturing incorporates cutting-edge technologies in clean, safe, and sophisticated facilities.

Section II: Two Reasons Manufacturing is Important
In this section, I explore the national interest issues regarding domestic manufacturing, specifically its importance for wealth creation and national defense. These concerns are beyond that of just simple commerce and profit considerations of the private sector. It is my belief that these issues will accelerate manufacturing investments and will drive a new wave of employment and business opportunities.

Section III: About Manufacturing and Business
In this section, I list the main types of manufacturing industries according to the government classification system. There is a wide variety of products described that require varying production methods depending upon what is being made. Smart Manufacturing is a new term that communicates the modern approach to all production methods. I organize what can be confusing terminology in a way that you will find clear and concise. Smart Manufacturing means producing things in a smart manner but also creating smart devices. These smart devices are blurring the lines between what is a product and what is a service. In doing so, new business opportunities are being created for those who understand what customers truly want when buying a product or service.

Section IV: Enabling Technologies: The Hardware Gadgets and Gizmos
In this section, I introduce the physical devices that provide the automation capability of a modern manufacturing plant to run efficiently. The topics I discuss are all key parts of the modern factory. Industrial Networking and Cybersecurity involve securing data transfers within the enterprise and to customers and suppliers. Robotics involve automated “muscle-power” that reduce the need for human workers to perform highly repetitive physical tasks. Additive Manufacturing, sometime referred to as 3D printing, is advancing so rapidly that changes will occur before you even finish reading this book. The technology that enables the designer to create a part with only a computer file and some raw material is revolutionizing entire manufacturing and service industries.

Section V: Enabling Technologies: Stodgy Software and Cool Apps
In this section, I explore the advances in software that are just as important as the hardware in powering Smart Manufacturing operations. Big Data drive important decisions on the plant floor on a real-time basis and at the “Top Floor” where business and investment decisions are made at the executive level. I discuss Augmented and Virtual Reality as they are incorporated into both smart products and Smart Manufacturing factories. Artificial Intelligence provides automated “Brain Power” to reduce the need for human workers to perform highly repetitive mental tasks and, instead, to concentrate on more creative aspects. Digital Twins, the capture of a physical item or process into a computer simulation, is an important emerging technology. So is Blockchain, the ability to provide traceability and ensure authenticity of manufactured items. I finish out this section with Software Rules by listing many types of software platforms that rule the manufacturing facility.

Section VI: Final Thoughts on the Human Element
In this concluding section, I discuss the people part of Smart Manufacturing. While the technologies are impressive and “sci-fi-like” in their sophistication, people play the most important role in manufacturing. The chapter on Soft Skills highlights the importance of human creativity and the ability to form and function in highly effective teams. The final chapter provides tips on how to get started in a Smart Manufacturing career.

With the ubiquity of search engines, information is never far from reach so I have kept easily found information out of the book. I have identified a few book references that stand out and so I offer them to you for further reading. Shoot me an email at if you find one that didn’t make the list.

The link to the full retailer list is here: The Smart Student’s Guide (

Authors note: Written in simple language, designed for those with no experience in manufacturing and can be used by parents, teachers, homeschool, and others needing an introduction to manufacturing.




Making accessible the concepts of Industry 4.0 and Advanced Manufacturing to educators, laypeople and the industrial controls industry.

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Mike Nager

Mike Nager

Making accessible the concepts of Industry 4.0 and Advanced Manufacturing to educators, laypeople and the industrial controls industry.

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