Digital transformation is fueling what is often called the fourth industrial revolution. To compete effectively, manufacturers must switch from static to dynamic operations by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, supply chain technology, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

To do so, manufacturers need workers capable of using these technologies—but there is a critical shortage of these skillsets. According to a May 2021 CNN article, the industry posted more than half a million job openings[1]. And a study published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute anticipates that as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will remain unfilled through 2030[2].

This report raises a red flag: the worker shortage will negatively impact production and revenue and could cost the U.S. economy up to US$1 trillion by 2030. Looking at this shortage in the Milwaukee metro area over the next 10 years, there is a 63 percent projected growth in need for employees with cybersecurity skills and a 34 percent projected growth in need for data analytics and visualization skills[3].

In addition, the technologies themselves—often sourced from multiple vendors—must be integrated. Doing so requires offering an entire ecosystem of providers—compute, networking, sensor, robotics, security, ERP, and artificial intelligence—venues where it can conduct proofs of concepts that meet the requirements of specific use cases.

Academia also needs tools and resources to assist in formulating and testing hypotheses that will further research into expanding manufacturing capabilities and competitiveness. This research benefits from a facility where testing can be conducted as a precursor to applying for government grants. Finally, academic institutions must teach students modern technologies if they expect to graduate a manufacturing workforce that can immediately make a difference through digital transformation.

To help industry, academia, and technology vendors join forces to meet these challenges, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) partnered with Cisco and Rockwell to launch The Connected Systems Institute, a center of excellence in next-generation manufacturing.

The Connected Systems Institute driving next-gen manufacturing

The Connected Systems Institute brings together UWM’s schools of business, information sciences, and engineering to drive adoption of advanced manufacturing methods and technologies. Essentially, CSI is changing how academia works with industry to advance thought leadership and drive desired business outcomes. The intention is that all work done at CSI should be sustainable and repeatable at its core.

UWM is also home to an internationally recognized faculty with extensive expertise in IIoT-related disciplines, giving CSI a rich reservoir of talent experienced in using digital tools to accelerate innovation. This capability enables the institute to drive economic growth by supporting the development of innovative production solutions and by filling the pipeline with digital manufacturing specialists.

CSI is a center of excellence for a global practitioner community that is transforming manufacturing processes. The institute brings together the best of industry and academia to deliver education and research opportunities focused on the unique needs of advanced manufacturing and on facilitating the evolution of the IIoT.

Leveraging partnerships with Cisco and Rockwell

Industry partnerships are integral to the work at CSI. With the support of its partners, the institute is helping academicians and students become more knowledgeable multidisciplinary collaborators.  As an example, both Rockwell Automation and Cisco donated equipment, software, and subject matter expertise to the University of Wisconsin to form CSI, which occupies 11,000 square feet on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.

CSI leverages global insights and expertise from Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration Program, which has more than 1000 projects in 40 countries aimed at powering secure and sustainable digitalization through cross-vertical solutions. Partnerships and co-innovative environments such as these, in turn, help CSI develop new business processes based on current and emerging technologies. Strategic insights help Industry partners make their own production environments and processes more effective.

The UWM Connected Systems Institute wouldn’t be running today without Cisco. We’re just deeply grateful for the contribution that Cisco made, because when you look at the way that the entire project was spec’d out, Cisco components were integral to the design of the project.

Jennifer Abele, Senior Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Likewise, as the founding member, Rockwell Automation plays a lead role in several CSI capabilities, such as a manufacturing test bed. This test bed is a fully functional production environment where students gain hands-on experience in producing and fulfilling orders. The test bed provides exposure to Industry 4.0 technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence. The test bed features plant and automation control tools from Rockwell Automation and switching controls from Cisco.

Building a bridge to next-gen manufacturing

Built to help drive resilience and competitiveness into supply chains and manufacturing in the United States, the Connected Systems Institute at UWM is truly interdisciplinary, reflecting a convergence of business, IT, and engineering. In fact, the CSI reflects this convergence through an open-concept floor plan that allows participants working in all disciplines—from cybersecurity to robotics—to easily interact with each other.

Clearly, this is not how legacy manufacturing facilities are built. Instead, the founders of the CSI believe that the workforce of the future must have an interdisciplinary mindset to implement digital transformation in a manufacturing setting. And the CSI is designed to deliver just that. Students graduate from the program knowing they need to hit the ground running and knowing what they need to do to meet the needs of their employers quickly.

Learn more about the UWM CSI story


Connected Systems Institute Geared for Digital Manufacturing
(Government Technology article)

Learn how the Cisco and Rockwell partnership

may benefit your manufacturing operations.


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[1] Matt Egan, American factories are desperate for workers. It’s a $1 trillion problem, CNN Business, May 4, 2021.
[2] Paul Wellener, Victor Reyes, Heather Aston, and Chad Moutray  Creating pathways for tomorrow’s workforce today Deloitte, May 4 2021.
[3] Burning Glass Technologies report, received under license by UWM


Ram Srinivasan

Global Partner Executive

Global Partner Org