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Industry 4.0 is due to put off-shoring into reverse

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Professor Mark Ferguson

Director General at Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland

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Dr Ciarán Seoighe

Deputy Director General at Science Foundation Ireland

Manufacturing is on the verge of huge change. Smart manufacturing, including things like 3D printing, will see the demands of customers dictate how businesses are run. SFI’s research centres are looking to reduce the guesswork for businesses.


Standing at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, and trying to predict how manufacturing may change, is a tricky prospect.

The advent of innovative technologies could put the traditional model of off-shoring production in to reverse.

On top of that, work done within factories is likely to change, with robotics unlocking what man and machine are capable of in terms of production and personalisation.

But how does Ireland ensure that its manufacturing industry, which contributes 24% of its total economic output, fully embraces these changes?

Irish research centres need financial support to keep ahead

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General at Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, believes promoting collaboration between industry and researchers will keep Ireland ahead of the curve.

“Funding research centres, which are aimed at ensuring Ireland occupies a leading position within this manufacturing revolution, is essential in helping us maintain Ireland’s competitive edge.”

Shared solutions to 3D-printing and AI to help the wider research community

These centres will focus on smart manufacturing, artificial intelligence and 3D printing, giving their industry partners access to research expertise and innovative technologies.

“These centres keep the leading edge of both types of organisation pulling in the same direction, towards a common goal,” says Dr Ciarán Seoighe, Deputy Director General at SFI. 

“By developing that community of practice, you create a space where people can share ideas, share challenges and find solutions to problems faster, building up a core of knowledge.”

In the future, it could be the norm to design your shoes to your exact spec

Increased collaboration between industry and academics should help participating businesses navigate the sizeable impact that smart manufacturing will have on how they operate.

That impact is likely to completely change the relationship between business and the customer, according to Seoighe.

“If you want to buy a pair of running shoes, today you go in, get analysed and buy something that’s readily available.”

“In future, people will expect to be able to design their own product to their own specifications, have it built and receive it far quicker than they might do today.”

Outreach programmes encourage uptake of 4IR innovations

The challenges that this new era of manufacturing presents for industry aren’t to be ignored, but neither are the vast opportunities. Education on how smart manufacturing might boost workers’ prospects could go a long way towards negating the fear of robotics, centred around a loss of jobs for humans.

“Our research centres run outreach programmes that aim to encourage the public to embrace the changes that Ireland’s manufacturing industry will see,” Seoighe said.

“We want to have the most informed public when it comes to science, hopefully replacing fear of the unknown with excitement at new opportunities.”

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