New Trillium Network report identifies opportunities and barriers to investing in Industry 4.0
Investing in automation, robotics, and other advanced production technologies associated with Industry 4.0 is critical to the competitiveness of Ontario’s manufacturing sector.
Many manufacturers are far along in their automation journey and are prepared to invest further. Others, however, have not yet made the same investments. Given that this is the case, it is important that we understand the motivations, opportunities, and barriers to investments in automation, robotics, and other advanced production technologies among Ontario manufacturers.
To do so, the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing collaborated with the City of Brampton Economic Development Office to learn more about the motivations, opportunities, and challenges facing manufacturers as they relate to investments in automation, robotics, and other advanced production technologies (the full report is available here). Brampton, one of Ontario’s largest and fastest-growing communities, is home to a network of manufacturers that employ over 40,000 people and contribute more than $5 billion to Canadian GDP. While several large and well-known manufacturers are located in Brampton, such as Stellantis, Magna, Martinrea, Maple Lodge Farms, Coca-Cola Canada Bottling, Matcor-Matsu, and MDA, the city is also home to a diverse network of small and medium-sized companies that produce everything from automation equipment to potato chips. Moreover, Brampton’s manufacturing ecosystem includes private and public sector R&D facilities that develop and support the adoption of Industry 4.0 throughout Ontario’s manufacturing sector, including Magna’s Promatek research centre and the Sheridan College Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Design and Technology.
The report, co-authored by Brendan Sweeney, Erman Sener, and Jack Mordue, is informed by government statistics and consultations with a number of Brampton-based manufacturers from industries such as food processing, automotive, pharmaceuticals, and machinery, is available here. In addition to underscoring the substantial economic impact of manufacturing on Brampton and other Ontario communities, the report provides insight into why some manufacturers have invested in advanced production technologies and Industry 4.0 while others continue to lag.
Many of the report’s conclusions have broader applications for manufacturers and communities throughout Ontario and the rest of Canada. For example:
- Investing in advanced production technologies is a precondition for growth and competitiveness in most segments of manufacturing;
- Advanced production technologies are no longer simply a replacement for labour; rather, investing in such technologies is a solution to labour and skill shortages;
- Access to talented and skilled personnel is critical to competitiveness and the ability to invest in certain production technologies. However, these personnel are in short supply and high demand;
- Developing talented personnel with an interest in advanced manufacturing is emerging as a top policy priority in the very near future (if it hasn’t already);
- Investing in advanced production technologies is important, but those investments need to fit specific contexts. Manufacturers should not rush into such investments without first determining if they are a good fit;
- Not every manufacturer will adopt the same technology, nor will they adopt technologies at the same rate as their counterparts. In many instances, certain technologies will never be relevant to a particular manufacturer or industry;
- Peripheral manufacturing activities, such as secondary packaging, are often the most difficult to automate. Many of these activities are done by lower-paid employees. Some of the participants in this study noted that they would be unlikely to invest in technologies that supported the automation of peripheral activities if they had reliable access to lower-paid employees. In this respect, we offer an alternative perspective to studies that identify the lowest-paid employees as those most likely to be displaced by automation.
Understanding how technological development, labour markets, infrastructure, and company culture affect individual manufacturers and manufacturing industries is an essential first step in supporting investments in automation, robotics, and advanced production technologies. These investments are vital to the competitiveness of Ontario’s manufacturing sector and to the economies of Ontario communities. All of these themes are central to the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing’s mandate to raise awareness of Ontario’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem. We look forward to continued collaboration with partners such as the City of Brampton Economic Development Office as we work to support the growth and competitiveness of Ontario manufacturing.
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