Head of Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, IT Sligo & Project Lead, Advance Centre
The Irish manufacturing sector is facing unprecedented challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, the climate crisis and competitors embracing Industry 4.0.
The pandemic, combined with Brexit, has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and helped to reshape supply chains, however, weaknesses remain. Despite some attempts to localise or regionalise supply and production networks and to implement nearshoring, the dominant strategy has mainly been to increase inventories.
The latest advances in data analytics enable Planning 4.0 to redefine the end-to-end supply chain processes. The digitalisation of workflow-driven, multi-enterprise supply chain applications allows manufacturers to devise new scenarios, drive innovation, accelerate response times and even change the economics of production.
The targets for net zero demand a decarbonisation of the manufacturing industry. An important step for this is the electrification of the sub-sectors with low and medium heat requirements, using clean-energy sources. In addition to sustainable product design, manufacturers must take further steps towards cleaner and greener processes across the value chain.
Manufacturers that have fully implemented their digital transformation by adopting a data-centric approach and a collaborative environment can now access data, information and decisions throughout the lifecycle of their products. This digitalisation is a key enabler for up-scaling various models of the circular economy.
With well-established lean manufacturing strategies, manufacturers have already fully optimised their operations.
The speed of adoption of the various enablers for Industry 4.0 has exposed threats, but also presented various opportunities that will reshape several manufacturing paradigms. In terms of technology, the focus is on scalable and obsolescence-resistant IT stack, fast-tracking automation programmes, cobots, connected analytics, digital twins, and extended reality.
With well-established lean manufacturing strategies, manufacturers have already fully optimised their operations. However, they have not yet maximised the use of their own data. The integration of quality and lean management models, with advanced analytics, could harness the value of such data. The outcomes of such a development will generate new models of integration that will be critical for the smart, virtual and digital factories of the future.
Addressing digital challenges
Today, the digital-skills gap and cultural issues pose the greatest challenges to the digital transformation journey and manufacturing resilience. To transform the workforce of the future, University College Dublin, IT Sligo and TU Dublin, together with the HEA, founded the Advance Centre.
The Centre offers a flexible and modular portfolio of accredited courses addressing Irish industry’s current and future skills needs in the digital transformation arena. The Advance Centre plays a pivotal role in providing manufacturing employers with the human capital they need to remain agile and competitive in our ever-changing digital world.