Yaskawa’s industrial robots – they are produced also in Kočevje in southeastern Slovenia.
Photo: Visual Hunt
Industry 4.0 – the term was first used by the German government at the start of the decade and broadly describes the technological advancement and the future readiness of a company or nation. As the concept has become quite fashionable (though sometimes it is already replaced by Industry 5.0) a growing number of studies try to assess how far advanced national economies are in digital transformation. In late 2018 the European Commission published the Digital Transformation Scoreboard: an index describing actual adoption of digital technologies by companies. It put Slovenia in 7th place among 28 EU members with a score of 46: the EU average was 39.3. The World Economic Forum’s report Readiness for the Future of Production puts Slovenia in the group of 25 leading countries. Slovenia thus ranks better in digital transformation than in overall competitiveness. Last year’s IMD’s report on digital competitiveness came to similar conclusions.
What is behind these rather abstract indices? One of the key elements of the industry 4.0 is robotization. The latest figures from the International Federation of Robotics show that Slovenian industrial companies use 144 robots per 10,000 employees. That puts Slovenia on 16th place globally and ahead of advanced economies like France, Switzerland and the UK. The European average is 106 robots per 10,000 workplaces. If we look at the automotive sector, Slovenia scores even better. The automotive industry of the Alpine republic is among 7 countries with more than 1,000 robots per 10,000 employees.
A short research on the adoption of Industry 4.0 was carried out earlier this year by the German – Slovenian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (AHK):
- for 87 percent of the surveyed companies digitalization was the top priority,
- only 15 percent of the companies haven’t started to work on a digitalization strategy,
- 30 percent of the surveyed companies have already implement such a strategy,
- 45 percent of the companies in the sample use big data,
- over 70 percent use cloud computing,
- 36 percent use M2M (machine to machine) communication and
- 11 percent use artificial intelligence.
Another study showed that 62 percent of industrial companies in Slovenia use internet of things (IoT). What is the weakest link, preventing even faster digital transformation? According to AHK members it is the people, or rather their limited ability to constantly adopt rapidly changing competences
Nevertheless, it is obvious that Slovenian manufacturing is undergoing a significant technological shift. This is particularly true for some industries, like automotive or pharmaceutics. Renault’s factory Revoz is thoroughly modern and relies heavily on robotization. The new plant of Slovenian pharmaceutical company Krka is also thoroughly automatized – the conceptual design was made by their in-house experts. Both companies belong to the 10 largest in Slovenia – yet digitalization is not reserved only for the biggest. One of the smartest factories in Slovenia is the new plant of Polycom, a mid-size family owned company, developing advanced plastic components for various industries.
A growing number of local providers of solutions for the digital transformation of companies is more proof of the relevance of Industry 4.0. Some Slovenian sensor and measurement equipment manufacturers are global leaders in their respective niches – and smart factories rely heavily on sensors and controllers. The local software industry is another example: companies like Nil Data Communications, Metronik, Kopa, 3Port, or MIT Informatika have shifted their focus toward solutions to support digitalized manufacturing or logistics. And last but not least: Yaskawa’s new factory of industrial robots in Kočevje – the first in Europe – is expected to further boost the development of robotics in the country.
The European digital readiness studies show, however, an area where Slovenians lag behind. They are among the least active users of social media in Europe. One could argue whether this is an advantage or disadvantage. And “intensity of online media discussions” on various aspects of digital transformation is also among the lowest. But one could argue that this low intensity may tell more about the Slovenian national character than the nation’s digital readiness.