Smart Factory Institute Opens in Chattanooga, First in Nation

By Abdiel Vallejo-Lopez

The nation’s first Smart Factory Institute opened its doors in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The grand opening, held at Volkswagen Academy, kicked off National Manufacturing Month in Tennessee with a ribbon cutting ceremony open to 25 in-person guests and streamed live.

Local and state leaders in attendance included Tennessee Sen. Mike Bell, Tennessee Commissioner Jeff McCord, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, and Reps. Robin Smith, Esther Helton and Yusuf Hakeem. Virtual speakers included Gov. Bill Lee and Jochen Köckler, Ph.D., president & CEO, Deutsche Messe.

Smart Factory Institute is operated by Peak Performance Inc., in partnership with Volkswagen Academy Chattanooga, Deutsche Messe Technology Academy, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce/Tennessee Manufacturers Association and the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

As the first institute of its kind in the U.S., Smart Factory Institute provides innovation and workforce training to manufactures across the country with the goal of ushering in a new era of Industry 4.0 for the southeast. The institute aims to grow collaborative relationships with manufactures around the world, making Chattanooga a global hub for advanced manufacturing training. Participants will gain exclusive access to the latest technology in advance manufacturing through workshops, collaborative events and certifications. This training promises to create a stronger workforce for Chattanooga and develop candidates who are better prepared for hiring or promotion.  

Chattanooga Chamber spoke with Mary Beth Hudson, executive director, Smart Factory Institute, to learn more about what this institute means for Tennessee and the Chattanooga valley.

CC: How does it feel to be the first Smart Factory Institute in the United States?

Hudson: It’s exciting to be part of something at the very beginning. It’s very timely right now because there is a lot of growth in manufacturing, especially in Tennessee and the southeast region. It’s also timely to connect technology providers with manufactures that may be able to use that technology to optimize existing operations or incorporate into their new factories being built. Having new technology goes hand in hand with having a trained workforce that can operate this technology. The Smart Factory Institute will help bridge that gap.  

CC: Thomas Rilke, CEO, Deutsche Messe Technology Academy, mentioned that this plant will serve as a hub for training the surrounding areas in new technology. What is your vision for connecting Chattanooga with the larger global network?

Hudson: One of the advantages of being associated with Deutsche Messe is their connections with global manufacturers of this technology. They also have academies in China and South Africa and are working on establishing academies elsewhere in the globe. So, we already have a network of connections with technology providers. We will leverage these connections to bring technology providers to Chattanooga and showcase the technology options available. Through workshops and events at the Volkswagen Academy, manufactures will be able to see this equipment firsthand. What we’re about is creating those connections so that manufactures know what is available and how to incorporate that into their operations.

CC: Is there a specific person or talent you’re hoping to attract with this institute training?

Hudson: The careers in manufacturing today require highly skilled people with technological backgrounds. They’re problem solvers who understand this new technology. It’s not like in the past where you just had to have a strong back. A lot of the initiatives for us in this area revolve around getting middle school and high school students interested in technical careers. We’re partnering with the community colleges to offer them access to this technology for their programs, as well as those at University of Tennessee Chattanooga.

CC: How did the partnership with University of Tennessee Chattanooga happen?

Hudson: We’ve partnered with UTC’s industrial-organizational psychology program, which is a one-of-a-kind program in the U.S. The students will evaluate the impact of this new technology on the workforce and develop new, more effective training methods. Today’s workforce is much more transient. As a result, we must be faster, more effective and more creative in how we deploy our training.  

Learn more about how Smart Factory Institute is ushering in Industry 4.0  through this IndustryWeek article, here.