A 2020 vision for Industry 4.0

by Paul Fanning

The government’s new document ‘Ireland’s Industry 4.0 Strategy 2020-2025’ sets out a roadmap for industry to maintain its competitive edge.

The Government has launched its Industry 4.0 Strategy to help manufacturing firms to respond to technological change. Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD launched Ireland’s Industry 4.0 Strategy in December at the Irish Manufacturing Research Centre in Mullingar to help firms respond to the transformation of the manufacturing sector being driven by new digital technologies.

In her introduction to the strategy document, Minister Humphreys said: “Firm adoption of Industry 4.0 will be critical to maintaining a competitive manufacturing base into the future which will drive national productivity gains and underpin sustainability of high-quality jobs and export-led economic growth. However, firms of all sizes will face challenges in developing and adopting Industry 4.0 strategies. In 2019, Future Jobs Ireland acknowledged these challenges and signalled Ireland’s ambition, not just to respond, but to embrace the opportunities offered.”

The Industry 4.0 Strategy builds on Ireland’s industrial capabilities built over the decades, including a thriving community of indigenous supply chain SMEs and the presence of world-leading software and ICT industries.

Clearly, manufacturing is a central pillar of the Irish economy employing over 227,000 people with 85% of that employment outside Dublin. Ireland has successfully established a global reputation in manufacturing sectors such as Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals, Food and Drink, Medical Devices, Computers and Electronics, and Engineering. However, the emergence of a new wave of advanced ICT technologies is spurring a radical transformation across the sector. Such is the scale of this transformation that it is often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0.

Thestrategy, which has been developed as part of Future Jobs Ireland, the whole-of-Government plan to prepare businesses and workers for the future, covers the period 2020- 2025 and will support the development and adoption of new digital technologies in the sector. It builds on our industrial capabilities developed over decades, our thriving community of indigenous supply chain SMEs and the presence of world-leading software and ICT industries. Collaboration will be critical to the widespread adoption of new technologies and the Strategy sets out a number of supports to enable that collaboration to take place.

The Strategy was developed as part of Future Jobs Ireland, the whole-of-Government framework to covers the period 2020 – 2025 and will support the development and adoption of new digital technologies in the sector. It builds on our industrial capabilities developed over decades, our thriving community of indigenous supply chain SMEs and the presence of world-leading software and ICT industries. Collaboration will be critical to the widespread adoption of new technologies and the Strategy sets out a number of supports to enable that collaboration to take place.

Minister Humphreys said: “The manufacturing sector is a critical part of Ireland’s economy, particularly at a regional level. It supports 227,000 jobs directly and four out of five of those jobs are outside Dublin. Digital technologies are transforming the sector. This presents challenges but also opportunities and we must embrace the change to sustain the quality employment it creates right across the country.

This strategy includes a suite of actions that supports and promotes collaboration across the various stakeholders involved. By working together, we can ensure a bright future for this important sector.

Highlights in the Strategy include:

  • 18 strategic actions to address challenges including technology adoption, changing business models, skills, innovation, productivity and competitiveness.
  • Details of supports that are available to upskill the existing manufacturing workforce as jobs roles change, and to provide the right mix of ICT and engineering skills.
  • Establishment of a new group, Future Manufacturing Ireland, to coordinate the activities Government-funded research centres in this space and make it easier for companies to access the expertise that they need.
  • Establishment of an Industry 4.0 stakeholder Forum to oversee implementation of the Strategy, which will include representatives from the manufacturing sector as well as Industry 4.0 experts.
  • As part of the Government’s response, Minister Humphreys also announced the approval of Enterprise Ireland’s investment in the Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) Centre, a joint initiative between Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. The funding package over five years amounts to €23.5 million which represents a 57% increase from the previous phase (2015-2019).

    The funding will enable IMR to leverage funding in the region of €43 million from industry and competitive sources by 2024.Detailed plans have been developed by IMR under each of the main research themes: Digitisation of Manufacturing; Automation and Advanced Control; Design for Manufacturing; and Sustainable Manufacturing. As part of these plans IMR expects to triple the number of training days and to increase the number of Intellectual Property commercialisations by 467%.

    IMR impacts hundreds of companies each year and has several specialist production capabilities which are unique in Ireland such as state-of-art additive manufacturing equipment, AR/VR lab, cobotics and industry 4.0 demonstration lines which are being developed on foot on Regional Development Funding. IMR is able to deliver a turn-key solution for industry from design to pilot production and test.

    Within the strategy, it is noted that firms in Ireland are at different stages in their engagement with Industry 4.0 and these differences exist between sectors but also between firms in the same sectors. There is still a need therefore to raise awareness and understanding of:

  • technologies that underpin Industry 4.0;
  • challenges and opportunities that Industry 4.0 can present across their operations, innovation agenda, business models and value chains
  • the impacts of product/service convergence and customisation arising through Industry 4.0 in relation to strategic design, service design and product design
  • The innovation and enterprise agencies will work together to disseminate knowledge on how sectors and firms nationally and globally are adopting Industry 4.0 technologies. They will drive awareness and understanding of Industry 4.0 related topics across firms with little knowledge of the concept, but also to firms at the various phases of the digitalisation journey, with content tailored accordingly. They will employ a variety of mechanisms such as Industry 4.0 focused seminars and use-cases.

    Process innovation built on digital technologies can also lead to more efficient and flexible production processes with increased resource efficiency (both energy and materials). Industry 4.0 adoption will therefore contribute to the climate action agenda as set out in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2019.

    A key policy concern however is the effect that digitalisation will have on employment. It is expected to reshape the skills that will be required from the workers of the future, driving significant disruptions in the labour market. In Ireland it is projected that overall there will be growth in manufacturing employment over the next five years, but only under the assumption that manufacturing in Ireland remains internationally competitive. Industry 4.0 capability will be a critical driver of that competitiveness, underpinning productivity growth and innovation in new goods and services across the value chain.

    Future Jobs Ireland, a whole-of-Government framework launched in 2019, is an opportunity for managed and sustainable growth aimed at future proofing our economy. It will ensure our economy is resilient enough to withstand future shocks and emerging challenges but also agile enough to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

    Future Jobs Ireland is being developed in consultation with a broad grouping of stakeholders across Government, Education and Training sectors, Businesses, Social Partners and Civil Society. A highlight of this engagement was the unique Future Jobs Ireland summits in 2018 and 2019 at which the Taoiseach and a range of Government Ministers engaged with attendees.

    While Future Jobs Ireland will continue to focus on the five pillars established in Future Jobs Ireland 2019, 2020 will focus on three cross cutting themes in areas that have been highlighted as particularly important and will help address some key challenges facing employees and employers today. These are Clustering; New Modes of Working; and Transitioning.

    The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of the Taoiseach are currently working with the other Government Departments and other stakeholders to develop new commitments for inclusion in Future Jobs Ireland 2020 which is expected to launch in early 2020.

    The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) plays a key role in implementing the Government’s policies of stimulating the productive capacity of the economy and creating an environment which supports job creation and maintenance. The Department has lead responsibility for Irish policy on global trade and inward investment and a remit to promote fair competition in the marketplace, protect consumers and safeguard workers.

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