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Future of Manufacturing Discussed at Annual Lehigh Valley Symposium

By Colin McEvoy on October 7, 2016

More than 230 people attended the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium at the Agriplex in the Allentown Fairgrounds.

More than 230 people attended the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium at the Agriplex in the Allentown Fairgrounds.

Anyone with the perception that manufacturing is nothing more than a part of the Lehigh Valley’s past couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the first time since the days of Bethlehem Steel, manufacturing is the leading economic sector in the Lehigh Valley, making up $5.56 billion of the region’s $36.97 billion gross domestic product, or 15 percent.

“That’s a testament to all of you,” Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), said at the Lehigh Valley Business Manufacturing Symposium on Oct. 5. “We have 680 manufacturers in the our counties. We’re doing something the rest of America isn’t doing, which is leading our economy with manufacturing.”

More than 230 people attended the annual symposium at the Agriplex in the Allentown Fairgrounds, where topics of conversation included everything from robotics and artificial intelligence, to advice for growing manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things. LVEDC was a sponsor of the event.

The keynote address was delivered by John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, an internet consulting and marketing firm that helps harness the power of artificial intelligence, deep learning, cognitive analytics, and cyber security to help companies prepare for what it calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

McElligott said every day, more remarkable discoveries, inventions, and technologies are developed, and that what he called “disruptive technology” is inevitable. Companies should be proactive and embrace the disruption, stop trying to solve obsolete challenges, and train not for old jobs, but for jobs that have not been created yet, he said.

McElligott showed examples of autonomous vehicles, drones controlled by smartphones, and robots, working both on manufacturing floors and in the common household. Technology is changing rapidly, he said, and business owners are not embracing it quickly enough because they think the changes are still far off in the distance.

“I cannot stress this enough: 99 percent of what you’ve seen in this presentation has already happened,” he said. “This is not the future, it’s the past, and I get terrified when I sit down with leaders that control our education systems, our jobs, our cities, our communities, and I show them things that have already happened, and they said it’s not going to happen for a long time. Accept that this is happening, and plan accordingly.”

Tony Deutsch, a tax consultant and shareholder with Concannon Miller, offered advice on how manufacturers can save money. He cited the Research and Development Tax Credit and the Interest Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation – a benefit for companies that export – as two key tax benefits for manufacturers.

“We see manufacturers with tremendous exports not taking advantage of this opportunity,” Deutsch said.

Another panel discussion focused on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which refers to the enhanced internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and other various devices to optimize productivity and sustainability, while also accounting for the importance for increased security.

Eric Bryla, President of NexCtrl Inc., which provides controls and automation in the food and beverage industries, said manufacturing is very well poised to take advantage of the IIoT because it already has much of the necessary resources and technology on the floor.

Future IIoT needs include industrial ethernet switches, low-power wireless networks, ethernet processors, and fieldbus gateways, Bryla said. He also stressed the importance of manufacturers embracing cloud technology, from which much of their future analytics will derive.

October 2016 Issue of LVstartup E-Newsletter Released

The world's lightest high-security bike lock is manufactured right here in the Lehigh Valley. A brand new small-batch brewery has opened in Bethlehem. A new Allentown restaura[...]

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