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When many people think of manufacturing, they undoubtedly think of employing a vast, unskilled workforce of interchangeable workers.

That’s not the manufacturing of the future.

Meet Trent Carlson, who epitomizes the type of worker that will help make up tomorrow’s smart manufacturing workforce.

Carlson is a 2012 graduate of Marquette University’s College of Business, majoring in operations and supply chain management. As an Operations Associate at Charter Manufacturing, he uses his skills to sift through big data to increase the company’s operations, make it more efficient or meet other goals.

This line of work requires big data, understanding what is there and how to apply it to certain metrics. It’s applying the IT revolution to the factory floor. In other words, it’s hardly the type of traditional manufacturing that many people think of.

“You have to be comfortable analyzing data,” Carlson says. “We’re used to doing that in sports, and we should be able to apply the same techniques to business and manufacturing. Data really drives business.”

Carlson describes his job as adding a human touch to numbers. That’s where there’s a need in smart manufacturing for intelligent, trained workers to determine what data is important — and use that to make informed, better decisions.

“There will always be some sort of human element,” Carlson said.

The Smart Manufacturing movement promises new sets of 21st Century tools for operations people to do more big data analytics, computer modeling or advanced simulation. Some day there may even be simulators that could artificially create a real manufacturing plant and supply chain environment to learn, experiment and pioneer new ways to make stuff.

So when you think of the face of smart manufacturing, think of people like Carlson.