The UAE is very well positioned to lead in the Fourth Industrial Age

The country has taken qualitative steps to ensure its manufacturing sector will maintain relevance amid a new wave of advanced technologies

A flying car in action during a technology exhibition in Dubai in October 2022. EPA
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The manufacturing sector is a central pillar of the UAE’s economy contributing Dh197 billion to its national gross domestic product and employing more than 700,000 people.

The UAE has established itself as a global industrial powerhouse with advanced capabilities in chemicals, metals, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and automotives among other industries. However, the new wave of advanced technologies and Fourth Industrial Revolution solutions are spurring radical transformations across all industrial sectors at an unprecedented scale and speed.

Maintaining the relevance and global competitiveness of its manufacturing base makes adoption of 4IR technologies an urgent necessity. Ultimately, 4IR adoption enhances the competitiveness of our exports, drives productivity gains and creates high-skilled jobs. In a nutshell, 4IR technologies are redefining what it means to be competitive in a world where technology is becoming the main driver of growth and productivity for companies and economies.

In line with this shift, the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology has been leading the UAE’s efforts in driving the adoption of 4IR technologies across our production paradigm.

Through the launch of the Technology Transformation Programme, the UAE has set a clear vision and goals for Industry 4.0 adoption along with an action plan and enablers. With visionary leadership, world-class digital infrastructure, access to highly skilled talent, significant investments in advanced technology and supportive and forward-looking government policies, the UAE is very well positioned to lead in the Fourth Industrial Age.

Macroeconomic indicators illustrate that our efforts in the past three years are paying off with industrial productivity increasing by 18 per cent and exports by 60 per cent between 2020 and 2023. It has been a long journey and achieving these impressive results required hard work and resulted in some key lessons. For instance, firms of all sizes face challenges in adopting new advanced technologies, and while policy interventions and regulatory incentives can play a significant role, most blockers tend to be internal to the organisations.

Some industrialists want to avoid disruption to operations, but measured risk is vital to progress

Early on in this journey, the Technology Transformation Programme tackled some of the obvious blockers and bottlenecks that relate to access to financing, lack of awareness, advisory support and expertise. With initiatives such as advanced technology financing through the Emirates Development Bank, the Industry 4.0 Champions Network and the Industry 4.0 Enablement Centres, most of these gaps have been addressed, and as the figures show, a quantum leap has been achieved.

Other challenges include companies adopting a tactical approach to technology – something that many organisations have inherited, where technology is used to address immediate problems rather than secure long-term gains. Technology must be at the heart of a company’s business strategy with medium and long-term horizon planning.

Another barrier is organisational cultures that fear the unknown and maintain the status quo. Manufacturing is an asset-intensive business, and understandably, industrialists want to avoid any disruption to operations, but measured risk is vital to progress. There are also some companies seeking to adopt 4IR technologies without the necessary level of digital infrastructure or maturity in place first. Artificial intelligence, for example, cannot be used before there is connectivity and proper adoption of some fundamental technologies and data storage solutions.

Strategy and organisational culture are both set, nurtured and inspired by effective leadership. We have observed that the most advanced and technology-enabled organisations have a common trait – strong, effective and tech-savvy leadership. Companies where leadership embraces technology and fosters an entrepreneurial culture are more likely to have strong inhouse expertise and better business performance within their industry.

This is why the Ministry emphasises executive and leadership training in 4IR with more than 200 industrial leaders having undergone our Leadership 4.0 and CEO 4.0 training programmes to date.

To further bridge the gaps, the Ministry developed the Industrial Technology Transformation Index to provide manufacturers with a strategic, stepwise approach to Industry 4.0. The Index offers manufacturers a one-day assessment carried out by certified assessors, followed by a comprehensive report highlighting current digital and sustainability levels, and providing recommendations for improvement.

This assessment exercise brings a fresh and neutral perspective for companies, and it provides them with a benchmarking tool to compare themselves with industry peers. To further strengthen the approach, the Index has been linked to a National In-Country Value Programme where digitally mature companies are rewarded with better access and preferential treatment in local procurement. The link provides a strong incentive for technology adoption, and by using the ICV’s network, deep and sustained digitalisation is taking place across the entire industrial value chain.

To further enable and educate manufacturers, the initiative is now being supplemented by a so-called Use-Case Guide, which, based on data collected from the Index-assessed companies highlights real-life Industry 4.0 use cases, illustrating how advanced technology is being implemented to transform the production system. Crucially, it helps companies see how others have benefited from adopting technologies, creating an environment of healthy competition in the market.

Unlike other reports, the Use-Case Guide deep-dives into real-world 4IR applications providing manufacturers with insights and recommendations on key Industry 4.0 technologies and sector-specific sustainability initiatives. The comprehensive guide encompasses more than 90 high-impact use cases curated from over 1,530 Industry 4.0 applications and sustainability initiatives. The report provides detailed information on these applications including the expected operational benefits, return on investment, implementation time, pre-requisite capabilities and core skills.

The guide also includes key local highlights of Industry 4.0 applications and sustainability best practices. Companies such as Adnoc, Halcon, RAK Ceramics, Lipton Tea and Infusions, and Mai Dubai have already used cutting-edge solutions including AI, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, digital twin and cybersecurity solutions. These solutions are yielding productivity improvements of up to 30 per cent, increased factory output of 25 per cent, reduced operating cost of 25 per cent and 20 per cent energy efficiency.

Our approach to 4IR has been pragmatic, fostering the conditions that alleviate barriers and incentivise technology adoption, while also going the extra mile to change the mindset and tackle internal blockers to innovation. This approach has evolved, and will keep evolving, as we learn and uncover more; it’s a participatory and consultative process that caters for the wider ecosystem, ultimately uplifting our manufacturing base and taking advantage of the transformational opportunity of 4IR.

Published: April 05, 2024, 4:00 AM