Manitoba must focus on advanced manufacturing

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In Winnipeg and Manitoba, advanced manufacturing is one of the sectors proven to power economic growth, supplying high-value products to prime players in packaging, ground transportation, farm machinery and aerospace.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/07/2017 (1886 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In Winnipeg and Manitoba, advanced manufacturing is one of the sectors proven to power economic growth, supplying high-value products to prime players in packaging, ground transportation, farm machinery and aerospace.

The past decade has given rise to dramatic shifts within the local advanced manufacturing ecosystem, and Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) has been challenged to better understand the new technologies and catalysts moving the sector forward. To capitalize on Winnipeg’s existing and potential advantages related to advanced manufacturing, a broader appreciation was needed regarding the global impact of technology and innovation on the sector to ensure its continuing competitiveness.

The mobilization of an advanced manufacturing alliance — designed to connect EDW to stakeholders who can supplement and corroborate market intelligence — has been a vital first step in validating manufacturing’s role in the economy and in understanding the profound and pervasive changes stemming from both radical and incremental innovation.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Composites Innovation Centre president and CEO Sean McKay crouches by innovative new products. The centre is part of Winnipeg's advanced manufacturing ecosystem.

New products using next-generation materials are being designed and produced more efficiently than ever before, while advancements in quality are often complemented by reduced environmental impacts.

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers global survey reveals that more and more industrial companies around the world are making Industry 4.0 digital transformation the focus of their business strategies. Globally, these companies plan to double their average level of digitization within five years, from 33 per cent to 72 per cent — and they are investing more than US$900 billion per year to do it.

No single factor drives Industry 4.0, but the inexorable push for profitable growth is a compelling force. Customers are demanding more for less and digital technologies offer a way to meet this demand, creating new opportunities for value-added products and services in the process. Canadian firms recognize they cannot compete on cost alone.

It goes without saying that innovation is a critical factor in assuring advanced manufacturing companies on the Prairies can continue to compete within the Industry 4.0 ecosystem. However, Canada continues to lag behind other nations in adopting new innovations and technologies in key industry sectors.

In 2014, the Conference Board of Canada compared innovative performance, on a relative basis, between Canada, the provinces and 16 peer nations. Its report, titled How Canada Performs: Innovation, concludes: “With few exceptions, Canadian companies are rarely at the leading edge of new technology and too often find themselves trailing global leaders. Also, with signs of emerging weakness in public R&D and persistent weaknesses in business R&D, patents, ICT investment, and productivity, Canada’s innovation performance — although improving overall — rests on a precarious foundation.”

The Conference Board proposes several straightforward countermeasures to mitigate this unremarkable ranking: increase innovation-related spending, implement and effectively use technology, create a healthy business climate and enhance management skills and expertise.

In Winnipeg, a balanced advanced manufacturing ecosystem has formed, and it continues to be enhanced through the addition of new technologies and support structures.

The city has already been a centre for composite material technology for more than a decade, led by the Composites Innovation Centre, which has promoted the use of advanced materials by manufacturing companies both locally and nationally. And new advanced manufacturing capabilities and technologies are evident in the additive manufacturing industry, with Precision ADM manufacturing parts for the aerospace and medical device industries.

Winnipeg’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem is being further bolstered by new federal government investments through the National Research Council’s advanced manufacturing program, which includes an 80,000-square-foot, $60-million advanced manufacturing research and applied technology centre.

Underpinned by new skills programs and post-secondary institutions, leading-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence, companies such as Sightline Innovation further validate that a balanced advanced manufacturing ecosystem is needed to remain competitive in the Industry 4.0 environment. Winnipeg is well-positioned to be a national leader on this front. If actuated, a proposed public/private machine learning cluster called the Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI) would solidify this standing across Canada.

Manufacturing is a major contributor to Manitoba’s economy, and we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. Proposed actions must focus on enhancing the value proposition promoting the province as an advanced manufacturing region. Strong partnerships between government, industry and education, as well as a highly skilled workforce and cutting-edge research, enable local advanced manufacturing firms to grow their market share and increase the flow of inward investment.

If we play our cards right, global recognition of Winnipeg and the surrounding area as an advanced manufacturing hotbed will be a major boost to attracting venture capital and local and international investment.

Dayna Spiring is the president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg Inc.

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