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Analysis shows need for policy change in Donegal and North West for Manufacturing to maximize the potential of industry 4.0 in European Regions

DIGITAL REGIONS, or Regional policies adopting Industry 4.0 for their Digital Transformation, is an international project part-funded by the Interreg Europe programme in which 8 European regions, including Border, Midland and Western region represented by the ERNACT network, are working together to address a common challenge: how to support the manufacturing sector by adapting innovation policies for Industry 4.0 (I4.0), the 4th industrial revolution.


I4.0 is already well underway and offers manufacturing dramatically increased agility, flexibility, productivity and capability to produce new products. Typically, it involves advanced and disruptive technologies, deep / wide-spread process changes and needs for upskilling and re-training in the work-force. This level of change typically challenges smaller companies the most. It matters because adoption of I4.0 is crucial to maintain competitiveness and to future survival in the manufacturing sector.


Findings that affect Donegal and the North West of Ireland 


With the invaluable support and collaboration of regional stakeholders, (Enterprise IrelandLYIT / WisarSligo IT / PEMLEO SligoNWRAW8 CentreLouth & Meath ETB), the projecthas identified significant gaps and opportunities in the readiness of SMEs for Industry 4.0 across the Border, Midland and Western region. As all partner regions have used a common methodology, the partnership has been able to objectively compare the local situation with other European regions and reach some conclusions to achieve a policy change.


The analysis made has covered aspects to facilitate I4.0 adoption in SMEs such as: availability of I4.0 related facilitiesinitiatives and ecosystemssupporting programmes and the required future I4.0 workforce and skills. The analysis has been carried out following a 3-step approach: a Macro-analysis of national and regional indicators with relevance to the implementation of Industry 4.0 technology; a Micro-analysis with a regional focus to analyse results; Benchmark: a consolidated assessment and comparison of all partner regions to identify commonalities and complementarities regarding existing challenges and opportunities.


The analysis made by DIGITAL REGIONS in project’s 8 partner regions reveals a similar pattern across the 8 regions: knowledge of I4.0 is lowawareness of I4.0 related supports and funding is low and many businesses face resource challenges to take advantage of I4.0. This is despite the fact that the participant regions range from Strong, Moderate to Modest Innovators (ref the European Regional Innovation Score ranking RIS 2019).


The statistics for the Border Midland and Western region indicate the following:


}  21% of occupations in manufacturing in Ireland are at high risk from automation. Occupations associated with processing and operations, especially manual work e.g. packing, machine operatives, are most at risk.

}  Midlands (65%) and Border (64%) have the highest proportion of their workforce with a high or medium risk from automation due to more low-technology manufacturing. This is above the national average risk level; Dublin has the lowest proportion at risk (53%).

}  These regions most at risk also suffered high job losses during the recession and are among the most exposed to Brexit.


Detailed local analysis was carried out via an online survey. Most of the responses came from micro and small businesses, and from across a wide range of sectors. The results, from 40 companies, revealed the following for the Border Midland and Western region:


}  Lack of knowledge on I4.0 concepts: Most respondents (62%) are not so familiar / somewhat familiar.

}  Lack of information to understand I4.0 challenges / opportunities: Most respondents have little or no information (54%).

}  Awareness of supports: 69% do not know about state supports.

}  Highest impact technology: Is seen to be Robotics / Cobotics (48%) followed by AI.

}  Most critical for competitive advantage: Automation of Manufacturing process is seen as most critical by 62%. Then, data analytics by 27% to reduce costs.

}  Most critical market challenges: Product / process innovation (39%) and to enter other national markets (28%).

}  Envisages I4.0 strategic goals: 30% Addition of new products / services, 21% increase gross margins, 18% increase efficiency.

}  Job creation: Majority of respondents believe that implementing successful Industry 4.0 would lead to additional employment.

}  COVID-19 impact: Expected to impact 85% of these respondents.




Led by ERNACT, the main objective of the DIGITAL REGIONS partnership is to achieve a 15% increase by 2022 in the number of SMEs from the manufacturing sector to implement I4.0 solutions as a result of improved innovation policies. The pathway is via cooperation with stakeholders in the participant regions and between regions to identify measures to facilitate improved I4.0 policy cooperation, increased SMEs participation and increased availability of I4.0 skills. The regions involved are Varna (Bulgaria), Upper Franconia (Germany), Border Midland and Western region of Ireland, Centro Region (Portugal), West Region (Romania), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Cantabria (Spain) and Canton of Bern (Switzerland).





For further details, contact:

Margaret Quinn, Programme Manager, ERNACT

Tel +353749168212 / [email protected]