The lab will feature an Amatrol Smart Factory Learning System, which was acquired with the grant funding. (photo courtesy of Amatrol)

The Noble County Economic Development Corp. has joined with several partners to launch what it is calling a state-of-the-art learning lab to support the fourth industrial revolution. The EDC says the Industry 4.0 Lab will help students and adults learn the necessary skills to adapt to new technologies being used in the manufacturing sector.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Noble County EDC Executive Director Gary Gatman said the lab will help meet demand that is already here.

“I spend a lot of time talking to manufacturers. Everywhere I went, I was seeing robotics. I was seeing automation. I was seeing a variety of new technologies. A lot of people perceive them as cutting edge and they are, but they’re already here,” said Gatman. “And so, we began talking with some partners in the community about how can we evolve our talent development system to meet what are clearly rapidly-changing skill needs in the manufacturing sector.”

The lab will be housed within the Community Learning Center in Kendallville. The EDC says the lab will be the first of its kind in the region, thanks to a more than $470,000 grant from the Don Wood Foundation.

Other partners in the lab include the Dekko Foundation, Impact Institute and Freedom Academy, all of which are based in Kendallville.

The Impact Institute, which is the local Career and Technical Education provider in the county, has received approval to run a new program for high school juniors and seniors beginning in the next academic year to teach them skills in various Industry 4.0 technologies, such as autonomous robots, machine learning, additive manufacturing and Industrial Internet of Things.

Additionally, the Freedom Academy and others will use the lab to offer certification programs for adults on evenings and weekends.

Gatman says the goal of the lab is to create a multi-generational talent pipeline for the evolving manufacturing industry.

“As much as we’d love to keep every young person in Noble County, we know that there’s just simply not enough of them probably to backfill all of the retirements and all the other changes that are happening in the workforce,” he said. “So, if we’re really going to tackle the problem…we’re going to have to do it multi-generationally, which means we’re going to need people my age, which is almost 60. We’re going to need people my grandson’s age, which are getting ready to move into high school and we’re going to need everybody in between.”

In the long-term, Gatman hopes to create a robust farm system for the manufacturing sector in Noble County starting with students as early as middle school. He says he wants the county to be known as a community that embraces Industry 4.0 technologies.

The partners expect between 800 and 1,200 people to be trained and certified in advanced robotics and industrial automation skills over the next decade.