MxD Technical Fellow Tony Del Sesto shows how wireless sensors monitor manufacturing equipment, even technologies that have been in place for decades.

Chicago manufacturing innovation hub seeks businesses to assist with digital transition

Unbeknownst to many people, digital manufacturing innovation hub MxD is tucked away on Goose Island, a largely industrial corridor just outside downtown Chicago. The public-private partnership is seeking its next round of businesses to assist with transitioning to digital manufacturing as part of Industry 4.0.

MxD issued a request for proposals to assist small- and mid-sized manufacturers with creating a playbook for, and overcoming challenges with, adopting advanced manufacturing technologies. Applications are due Aug. 18.

Connectivity innovation

Centered recently visited MxD for the unveiling of the facility’s private 5G network, one of the first such networks in the country. The low-latency network contributes to lower manufacturing energy consumption. The lack of public access to the network enhances cybersecurity protections. 

Project partners say the system will significantly impact research and development taking place at the facility as the industry moves toward more digital operations and advanced automation. They anticipate the private 5G network concept will catch on in the coming months and years as manufacturers realize the benefits and uncover new applications.

“We’re very excited to have this system here in such an innovative space because we can go ahead and test a lot of new applications and devices,” said Tony Del Sesto, MxD technical fellow.

MxD's cybersecurity assessment tools simulate what happens during a hack at a water treatment facility and how to respond.
MxD’s cybersecurity assessment tools simulate what happens during a hack at a water treatment facility and how to respond. Credit: Katie Pyzyk

A peek inside

Del Sesto explained that the transition to Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, isn’t simply about adding technologies like sensors and analytics software; rather, the key is the methodology of how the discrete technologies mesh together for continuous improvement. He added that “digital” does not just mean robots and automation, it’s a method for streamlining operations, which reduces energy consumption and costs while increasing competitiveness.

Some of the projects on display include:

  • Decades-old analog factory equipment outfitted with new, 5G-enabled portable sensors that use software developed at the University of Cincinnati. The wireless sensors gather real-time data from the equipment to fuel analyses that inform predictive maintenance, which increases efficiency. “With 5G, I can have a portable system that I can throw on any machine,” Del Sesto said. “Now I’ve gone from a manufacturer who didn’t know what’s going on on my floor to being a manufacturer who can open a laptop and instantly see in real time what’s going on on the floor, as well as the historical data for predictive purposes.”
  • A moveable workbench where real-time instructions are projected in areas where tool operators can easily see them. The pings for a correct task completion and buzzer for an incorrect one especially help with efficiently training new employees.
  • A wall demonstrating cybersecurity assessment tools. It simulates a cyber hack at a water treatment plant that would result in contaminated water and how to respond. Del Sesto points out that entire factories can go down without strong cybersecurity measures in place, and MxD’s cybersecurity wall provides education on tools for keeping a factory running and supply chain intact.

Explaining the intangible

MxD helps manufacturers solve one of their big challenges: how to “bring to life” digital concepts that, like wireless, often are invisible or, like cybersecurity, are complex and difficult to understand, Del Sesto said. 

“It’s nearly impossible to learn this off a PowerPoint presentation,” Del Sesto said. “Our mission is to teach manufacturers how to deploy this type of technology and this type of methodology.”