The Third Wave, Industry 4.0 key themes at last week’s SHYFT conference

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The keys to enterprise success in the future were clearly the recurring themes throughout last Thursday’s “SHYFT Design + Innovation Conference” at the Knoxville Museum of Art.

It was the third annual thought-provoking, day-long discussion organized by Techmer PM, a global materials design company with a large presence in Clinton. After holding SHYFT in Chattanooga the past two years, the company moved the event to Knoxville to be part of “Innov865 Week.”

More than 100 people showed-up for the presentations and interactions that focused on putting design and design thinking much closer to the center of an enterprise’s strategy going forward. It’s not the first time that we have heard the importance of that approach from John Manuck, Techmer PM’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer.

“We are in this third wave,” he said in kicking-off the conference, citing the thinking of Alvin Toffler in his book titled The Third Wave. It was the message Manuck consistently articulated in a series of articles about his approach to starting and growing Techmer PM that we published several years ago on

“Just like in the ocean, if you fight that wave, you don’t survive,” he reminded the attendees. “You have to figure-out how to ride that wave.”

Manuck outlined six key success factors for the future. They are:

  • Embrace collaboration;
  • Leverage technology;
  • Recognize the importance of design;
  • Focus on sustainability;
  • Excel in delighting the customer; and
  • Be nimble and fast.

His thoughts and advice were reinforced by the next presenter – Brenna Sniderman, Senior Manager and Subject Matter Specialist with Deloitte Insights. Her topic was the fourth industrial revolution.

In a quick review of the previous three, she noted that the first industrial revolution was characterized by most production being located close to or at the source of demand. That meant customization rather than the mass production spearheaded by Henry Ford as long as you were happy with a Model T that came in only one color!

Ironically, the customization that defined the first industrial revolution is what Sniderman believes is now at hand, albeit enabled by the interplay of digital and physical technologies.

“Industry 4.0 is an ethos that allows you to be more responsive to your customers,” she noted. Perhaps the easiest picture to paint is additive manufacturing or 3D printing that allows customization in ways that have not been economically possible previously.

In her remarks, Sniderman explained that the nature of the fourth industrial revolution allows companies to not only develop new products and services but also improve productivity.

Both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley were partners in SHYFT.

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