Since making its debut in 2011, the term “Industry 4.0” has spread across the globe.
After several “updates” to the manufacturing process over the centuries, we are now entering a 4.0 era where computers and machines equipped with artificial intelligence are taking control of the production line with little or no input from human operators.
The manufacturing landscape has changed rapidly via mechanisation and digitalisation, but in Industry 4.0 we are witnessing a paradigm shift in global production at an unprecedented pace through the convergence of computers and automation.
In Asia, South Korea has been at the forefront of industrial revolutions. The country transformed rapidly from an agriculture-based economy to a high value-added manufacturing powerhouse. Recognising the worldwide trend toward digital economy, the new government under President Moon Jae-in has prioritised the push for a fourth industrial revolution.
Amid South Korea’s slowing industrial growth since 2010, Moon sees the digital revolution as a new growth engine to bolster productivity and employment.
The country is well-placed to reap rewards from the shift, given its high level of technology, IT infrastructure and innovative society. During his presidential campaign, Moon pledged to implement policies to kick-start the fourth industrial revolution, including a doubling of the scientific-research budget over the next three years.
His government is also confident that the 4.0 shift will strengthen the country’s competitiveness through more efficient production and lower costs.
However, the Industry 4.0 revolution is not confined to advanced economies. The developing countries of Asean are also seeking to boot-up their economies.
Asean has emerged as new international manufacturing base partly due to rising labour costs in China. Its manufacturing sector has been further strengthened by the remarkable potential of its domestic market and high economic growth.
But experts now say that Asean must prepare its workforce if it is to meet the unprecedented demands and changes in the 4.0 production system.
Otherwise, the opportunities may quickly return back to China. To this end, regional leaders at the 30th Asean Summit emphasised the need for “a more dynamic, creative and innovative region in an interconnected and interoperable digital economy by utilising ICT”.
Efforts to propel Asean toward a digitally enabled economy have been enshrined in the Asean Economic Community 2025 Vision, which highlights acceleration of technology and innovation to capitalise on global mega-trends. The AEC 2025 Vision is supported by the Asean ICT Masterplan 2020, to equip the region with the “latest infrastructure, technology, digital skill sets, information, applications and services”.
Building on these efforts, Asean needs to embrace the “creative destruction” needed to boost skills in its workforce.
The transition to a digital economy will also be a springboard for further regional integration and inclusive economic development.
In this regard, Asean may find a valuable partner in South Korea. In just 50 years, South Korea has successfully transformed itself from a war-torn, poverty-stricken country to a global high-tech giant. South Korea’s industrial success offers invaluable lessons to Asean member states in their aspirations to become digital economies.
Eager to exploit the mutual potential of industrial digitalisation and automation, the Asean-Korea Centre has implemented several trade and investment programmes, covering e-commerce in Brunei, service robots in Singapore, a smart city in Indonesia, smart manufacturing in Malaysia, software and IT in Thailand, and an investment promotion seminar in Seoul.
Other events in the pipeline are a trade facilitation workshop on the Internet of Things in Thailand, a capacity-building workshop for the Greater Mekong subregion, and a cross-border e-commerce and investment mission to Vietnam in the sector of industrial robots.
Asean member states have shown significant interest in these demand-driven and needs-based programmes, which aim to share South Korea’s expertise and know-how in digitalising its economy.
By keeping up with the rapid changes taking place on a daily basis in the era of Industry 4.0, Asean and South Korea can turn opportunities into reality through closer partnership.
Kim Young-sun is secretary-general of the Asean-Korea Centre and former South Korean
ambassador to Indonesia.