It can go by the name of “4th Industrial Revolution”, “Smart Factory” or “Industry 4.0”, but the concept does not change. Competing in the global market requires factories to integrate advanced technologies into the production process. The Internet of Things, the extension of the net to objects, is what allows them to communicate and interact with each other. For the past few years, this has moved out of the realm of science fiction, and Italian industry is catching up on the front of innovation. “In a study published on 23 June of his year,” explained Marco Taisch, Professor of Automated Production Systems and Industrial Technologies at the Milan Polytechnic University, “the Industry 4.0 Observatory of the Polytechnic University revealed that only 8% of business owners does not recognise the expression ‘Industry 4.0’.”
That is positive, isn't it, Professor Taisch?
Yes, if you think that one year ago, the figure was 38%. It means that the work done starting at that time, both through the Industry 4.0 National Plan – a collection of government issued measures aimed at facilitating the diffusion of digital manufacturing – and the associations, has given its results.
Therefore, Italy is not going to be left behind?
The usual saying in which we are always the slowest to welcome new things is partially true and there are negative points that we cannot deny, like the issue of low productivity. However, I would like to go against the current and underscore how, despite everything we are still second in Europe for manufacturing. To this, we add that the estimated GDP has been raised, from an initial figure of +0.9% to +1.4%, a sign that there are signals of an evident recovery.
What has changed with the package of measures inserted in the last Budget Law?
The National Plan for Italy is much more intricate than that of other Countries and has provided a considerable budget for the companies. Without a doubt, l'hyper amortisation and super amortisation are effective incentives for investors, just like a 50% tax credit for research and development. There have been several meetings about Industry 4.0 in Brussels, and I have received many positive comments on our programs.
When they say that robots will take jobs from people, don’t we really think that, in a global market, if we fail to innovate, we will be forced to close. Therefore, jobs will be lost not because of robots, but because due to a shortage in technology and competition.
However, it is hard to compete alone. Is European cooperation possible or are there discussions on this subject as well?
For some time now, the Ministers of Economic Development in Italy, German and France have been coordinating an exchange that includes companies. We are concentrating mainly on three subjects: common technological standards, engagement of small and medium-sized companies, and lastly, a series of shared policies.
Therefore, the conversation with Germany, the leader of digital manufacturing, is possible?
The great producers of 4.0 technology are in Germany – consider Siemens, Bosch and Saap – but in Italy, we are capturing important niches. Europe is potentially the first market in the world, so making common policies strengthens us. I believe that Germany understands this. We cannot think of competing alone against China and the United States.
We mentioned small and medium-sized companies. There is an innovation gap between the small and the large companies. What can we do about this?
We can see the gap, but there are examples of small and medium-sized businesses that have implemented excellent digital manufacturing projects and that are growing, and therefore hiring. This indicates much: those who invested in industry 4.0 have increased their added value and their productivity, and this has happened in small sized companies.
Shouldn’t change also be cultural?
When they say that robots will take jobs from people, don’t we really think that, in a global market, if we fail to innovate, we will be forced to close. Therefore, jobs will be lost not because of robots, but because due to a shortage in technology and competition.. If productivity increases, also thanks to robots, it is clear that the number of employees per product goes down, but the company, and the country’s industrial system, will be able to compete and therefore create jobs.
However, for the moment, people are very worried.
The three previous industrial revolutions happened much more slowly than this one. As older people stopped working, the younger generation entered with updated skills and therefore the system stayed afloat. Today, we cannot expect 50-year-olds to retire in 15 or 20 years, before having the specialised personnel enter the workforce. So we have to work on two different fronts.
What do you mean?
On one hand, permanent training for people who are already part of the workforce, because obsolete skills cannot continue to remain stopped for years to come. On the other, it is fundamental to look at our youth, who often have excellent qualifications that are not required by the labour market. We need to intervene in the orientation phase in the middle and high schools to try to direct kids towards studies that are absolutely necessary.