Industry 4.0: “The sky’s the limit”
PromFR | 01.09.2022

Jerry Krattiger

The concept of Industry 4.0, which originated in the German automobile sector, quickly snowballed. With its dynamic economy and first-rate framework conditions, the canton of Fribourg has made Industry 4.0 a pillar of its economic development strategy. In the following interview, Jerry Krattiger, Managing Director of the Fribourg Development Agency, explains why.

Industry 4.0 has become a must in the business world, yet it is still not well understood by the general public…

Industry 4.0 is the name given to the new industrial shift caused by the digitization of trade and production. It follows on from the three major industrial revolutions that were ushered in by mechanization, electrification and automation, respectively. The connection of physical products and their ability to process information is transforming how companies operate. Smart factories are basically the norm in the manufacturing sector now. Thanks to cutting-edge technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing, the various tools and workstations all along the production chain communicate constantly with each other in real time. The service sector also plays its part in this widespread transformation by developing innovative commercial processes and models.

Where do Switzerland and the canton of Fribourg stand in the digital transformation of the global economy?

Switzerland’s research expertise, skilled workforce and high-performance infrastructure puts it in an excellent position compared to other countries. The canton of Fribourg has made Industry 4.0 a pillar of its economic development strategy. Specialization in this field – which already accounts for 12% of the canton’s GDP and 8% of its employment – should enable us to assert ourselves as a major player in the transition, by focusing our energies on what we excel at, such as 3D printing, robots, machines, sensors, big data and autonomous vehicles.

This is a game changer not only for companies directly producing 4.0 technologies, but also for the entire manufacturing sector?

Yes, and it is critical that these firms receive the support they need to keep adapting their means of production so that they can rise to the challenges posed by the digital revolution. We are in the fortunate position to have a first-rate environment, with several innovation sites that are fully paid-up members of Industry 4.0, like Le Vivier, a real industrial cluster specializing in automation and robotization, and the Marly Innovation Center, which is home to iPrint, a world-class research institute in the field of digital printing.

What other advantages does the canton have to offer?

The blueFACTORY site is home to the competence center ROSAS and its spin-off CertX. Both are at the vanguard of technologies and certification standards for autonomous vehicles. We also have iCoSys, a research institute specializing in artificial intelligence and complex systems, which develops interdisciplinary approaches and plays an important role in promoting the transfer of knowledge and technology from academia to the regional economy. The proximity and adaptability of our higher education providers remain one of our greatest strengths. It is entirely possible that the impact of Industry 4.0 will eventually spread to all of Fribourg’s primary and second sectors, especially the bioeconomy, in which we lead the way (see FNF 2021). The movement has been launched and we are already supporting a number of projects through the New Regional Policy, which we hope will lead to the emergence of high value-added interfaces.

Can you provide some examples?

SmartFarming, a collaborative project that uses digital data recorded by sensors and drones, aims to optimize agricultural production processes. Real-time information on hygrometric conditions or on the presence of potential pests enables farmers to take targeted, highly effective and less costly action. This constitutes a truly virtuous circle and is the result of Industry 4.0-driven processes. When it comes to potential synergies, the sky’s the limit.

Should we fear the impact of Industry 4.0 on the labor market?

Industrial revolutions have always unsettled the public. Every time, though, the facts have belied these fears. Sure, there will be major upheavals and some jobs are likely to disappear. But, at the same time, many new jobs will be created in other sectors and new skills will appear. The challenge will be to provide training that reflects these new realities. Much more than a risk, Industry 4.0 does presents a tremendous opportunity for our economy and society.