In recent years, manufacturers have begun to adopt technologies leading to the creation of the term industry 4.0. What are the biggest benefits for manufacturers in embracing this digital transformation?
Taqee Khaled: Manufacturers can diversify their revenue and add customer value by offering not just products alone, but products-as-a-service through data-enabled ecosystems. Success requires effective integration of new technologies and readiness to deliver. It’s critically important to assess existing digital assets companies have in terms of people, processes and technology, as well as marketplace momentum needed to credibly deliver new services.

Most people hear Internet of Things (IoT) and think of refrigerators that are suddenly connected to WiFi. In reality, there’s much more to it. How are manufacturers leveraging industrial IoT?

TK: IoT means having deeper understanding about entire fleets and systems of devices, with manufacturers no longer just selling a part or machine, but a data-enabled service that furthers their understanding of products – even post-sale. We see companies who can manage the transition effectively winning market share earlier.

All of these technologies are changing the industry in different ways. What industry 4.0 technology are you most excited about going forward?
TK: I’m most excited about AI, given machine and deep-learning advances paired with natural language processing and voice. However, interesting technologies are also emerging in edge computing, where we see better sensors providing more complex and real-time embedded analysis occurring within the device itself.


How is your industry benefitting from the renewed focus on manufacturing in the US?

Mark Lerner: As manufacturing in the United States continues to grow, so do freight railroads.  American factories are making more cars, consuming more energy, building more parts and assembling more machines. Moving all of those things – from raw materials to finished goods – depends on safe and efficient transportation networks. One of the largest freight railroads in North America, CN stretches from Omaha to Detroit and from Northern Minnesota to the Gulf Coast, and across Canada. As manufacturers make more products, CN and America’s railroads are meeting the demand, creating jobs and making billions of dollars of investments in new equipment and infrastructure, in turn building a safe and reliable network.

What innovations in manufacturing are changing the industry?

ML: Innovation in America’s manufacturing sector means more efficiency and automation, two results that extend beyond the factory and into the supply chain. Railroads are part of that and at CN we are continually looking at ways to innovate and improve what we do. The rapid pace of change in the transportation industry means railroads must evolve.  CN is leveraging various technologies to simplify the customer experience and provide a more reliable service while streamlining our own supply chain processes. One of the ways we will achieve this is by digitizing our supply chain which will drive even greater performance.

What can we do to bridge the skilled labor gap?

ML: At CN, we’ve invested heavily in training our people. We have two state-of-the-art facilities able to accommodate 600 people a week for in-class and experiential learning. In the US, we have a $25 million 55,000-square-foot campus in suburban Chicago where people receive training on all our key jobs ranging from conductor to car mechanic, and from track supervisor to signal maintainer. Employees receive hands-on training in learning laboratories with equipment such as locomotive simulators and dispatcher stations. As well, outdoor labs with dedicated locomotives and train cars and other equipment for field training are used to replicate real-life situations.

As the Director of strategy for The Nerdery, Taqee Khaled is in a special position to speculate about the future of technology in manufacturing. Here he discusses what he is most excited for in emerging technology, as well as ways companies can use the new tech to their advantage.

Mark Lerner is Vice-President Marketing and Business development for CN Rail, one of North America’s Class 1 Railroads. Among his responsibilities, he oversees all of CN’s business development activities, planning, corporate marketing and digital. He understands how technology is benefiting both the manufacturing industry and the railroads and how we can bridge the skilled labor gap.