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Future of Manufacturing

How innovations in technology is shaping the manufacturing industry

Credit: Siemens Digital Industries - Digital Solutions for Pharma

Heather Humphreys TD

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation

Advancements to ICT technologies is spurring a radical transformation across the manufacturing sector. Such is the scale of this transformation, that it is often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0.

Manufacturing is a central pillar of our economy, employing over 227,000 people, with 85% of that employment outside of Dublin. Exciting times are ahead as this sector is transforming due to a new wave in technology.

Technology is advancing across many industry sectors. These include cloud computing; the Internet of Things; high performance computing; advanced automated and autonomous systems and collaborative robotics; artificial intelligence; big data capture and analysis; and digital fabrication (including 3D printing).

The adoption of Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing sector and its supply chain will give rise to a wealth of opportunities for both MNCs and SMEs in Ireland.

It can play a key role in sustaining competitiveness and employment in key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and chemicals, food and drink, medical devices, computers and electronics, and engineering.

However, adopting Industry 4.0 strategies will be a challenge – no matter how big or small your firm. Future Jobs Ireland, our new economic pathway for Ireland, acknowledges these challenges but signals Ireland’s ambition to embrace the opportunities offered.

€500m in government funding for digitalisation

The digital transformation will depend on achieving excellence and critical mass in RD&I that underpins Industry 4.0. Here, Ireland is well-placed, having already invested significantly in a number of centres of scale including:

  1. CONFIRM: an SFI funded Research Centre with a focus on the convergence of IT systems and industrial automation systems.
  2. I-Form: an SFI funded Research Centre with a focus on additive manufacturing, combined with the use of digital technologies in manufacturing.
  3. Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR): this Enterprise Ireland (EI)/IDA Ireland funded centre is dedicated to close to market RD&I Industry 4.0 activities, including additive manufacturing/3D printing and with plans to extend activity in collaborative robotics and augmented/virtual reality.

The proposed Advanced Manufacturing Centre (AMC), which IDA Ireland is planning to establish, will complement these centres and respond to the needs of Ireland’s discrete manufacturing industry base.

The Government also supports investment in digitalisation through the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund with funding of €500m under Project Ireland 2040 and a suite of supports through Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland.

Overcoming fears that ‘going digital’ will spell unemployment

A key concern 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.

The Government will ensure that the education and training system responds to changing skills needs.

For example, the Regional Skills Fora facilitate engagement between enterprise and the education and training providers and Springboard+ and Skillnet Ireland offer a series of education and training programmes with a focus on the future of work in areas like blockchain, artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, virtual reality and smart factory technologies.

These initiatives build on our industrial capabilities built over decades, our thriving community of indigenous supply chain SMEs and the presence of world-leading software and ICT industries.

Following extensive engagement with the manufacturing sector, I will shortly launch a new strategy for Industry 4.0 that will ensure that manufacturing in Ireland is at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution.

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