We have some interesting facts for you to discover when (planning to) invest(ing) in robotisation, automation and/or digitisation …..


Under the guidance of Agoria and Sirris, industry experts and CEO’s have assessed the past few years the maturity of  more than 50 strongly performing  Belgian manufacturing companies, thereby using the framework of seven Industry 4.0 related transformation areas. From 2013 to 2018, thirty two factories of all kind of sectors and sizes have been awarded the Factory of the Future (FoF) Award.

Belgian FoF Award winning companies

< 50 employees

50 - 99

100 -  249

250 - 499

>= 500

Total

Automotive & Aeronautics

--

1

2

3

2

8

Food processing

1

1

4

1

--

7

Metal, plastic & electronic components

1

2

--

1

1

5

Building equipment

--

1

--

2

1

4

Textile

--

1

--

--

1

2

Medical & Pharmaceutical

--

1

--

1

--

2

Other

2

--

1

1

--

4

Total

4

7

7

9

5

32

Table 1 : size and sector of the Belgian Factories of the Future

As can be seen in Table 1, you don’t always have to be big to become a Factory of the Future. The majority of the Awarded factories employ less than 250 people. Especially the automotive, aeronautics and food processing sectors are quite advanced, accounting for about 50% of all Factories of the Future.

'Our people are trained for various cross-functional tasks. This makes their job more varied and interesting.' 

 ED&A

Higher efficiency, turnover and employment numbers but at the same time fewer unskilled positions

Together, these 32 companies invested the past 5 years more than 850m Euro in new (digitally connected) machines, automated and robotised production lines, new CAD-CAM related software, etc.  As a result, a considerable part of the low complexity and/or unskilled jobs have become obsolete in these factories.  This is true. No need to lie about this fact.

However, as a result of the Industry 4.0 related investments, all these companies have become much more efficient. Their quality levels improved significantly and development & production throughputtimes have been strongly reduced. This in turn enabled them to develop more (customised) products, increase their market share and become benchmarks in their sectors.

As a consequence, between 2013 and 2016 their combined turnover grew by 34% (mainly export!), creating the need to hire new people with new skills. A lot of new people… Over a time period of 5 years before receiving the Factory of the Future Award, the total employment of these 32 frontrunner factories has increased by no less than 15%

To put this figure in perspective : the Belgian industry average over the same time periode has shown a decline of 5%, meaning Factories of the Future outperform the average industry employment by a stunning 20%! Well done.

'Digital systems ensure the people on the shop floor can take decisions independently.'

 Newtec

Some more impressive numbers

Some people tend to argue that Industry 4.0 is only feasible for companies with a lot of (human) resources. This is not true. One third of the Belgian FoF’s employ less than 100 people. The fact is that these small firms typically decide fast, connect with the right external experts and are able to move ahead swiftly. As a consequence, they benefit to a larger extent from market and new job creation effects (Graph 1).

'As a company you need to make sure your employees are trained to perform cross-functional tasks.' 

Provan

 

International research confirms these conclusions

OK, this is only about Belgium, so what’s the big deal…? Yes, you’re right. However, a same kind of conclusion can be drawn from recent research (CESifo Working Paper No. 7608  (691,2 kB)), collecting job creation data from 1900 Spanish manufacturing companies in 20 different industries.

Scientists from the universities of Aarhus (Denmark) and Beyreuth (Germany) compared factory employment  in companies that introduced robots between 1990 and 1998 with those that did not. The conclusion – also here - was unexpected. For robot-friendly companies, employment increased by 50 per cent between 1998 and 2016, while for non-robot companies, the number of jobs fell by more than 20 per cent (see Graph 2).

According to the researchers, a large part of the explanation lies in scale. Robot-friendly companies increase the scale of their activities and gain market share (didn’t we hear this earlier?). In this expansion process, they create completely new jobs. For non-robot companies, the competitive pressure leads to lower turnover and ultimately fewer personnel.

The research also reveiled that exporting companies appear to be more inclined to robotise than non-exporters, because they are able to reap the benefits of efficiency gains more quickly on an international scale.

In short: both recent research and the track record of Belgian Factories of the Future prove that automation, robotisation and digitisation do make companies stronger, leading to increased international business success and strong new job growth. 

Inspired? Ready to take the challenge yourself? Please visit the European Advanced Manufacturing Support Centre @ www.adma.ec and do the short scan. Enjoy!