There was a time when Spain, under the euphemism of industrial reconversion, deindustrialized, like the other Western countries. From 1980, the factories went to other latitudes where producing is cheaper and where the corsets of labor and environmental legislation are more lax. From there goods could arrive in huge ships packed with huge containers, and keep prices low. It was not such a good idea: one of the objectives of the 2030 horizon is that each of the member countries of the European Union has an industrial sector that reaches 20%. In Spain, before the pandemic, it did not even reach 15%. Furthermore, reindustrialization must be done on new unavoidable assumptions: sustainability and digitization. These issues were discussed at the Retina Futuros Posibles event organized by El País and Telefónica.
Not so long ago, the term Industry 4.0 or Fourth Industrial Revolution emerged to describe the automation of the industry, but in these hyper-accelerated times there are already those who speak of a step further: a Fifth Revolution and an Industry 5.0, marked by a deep collaboration between the human being and the machine, through Artificial Intelligence, to improve efficiency and productivity: personalized production, collaborative robots (cobots), etc., without neglecting the commitment to sustainability.
The industry has to change and has already undergone changes in recent years. “There has been a disruption in production processes,” says Andrés Escribano, director of New Businesses and Industry 4.0 at Telefónica Tech. In order to be more competitive in a cruel and volatile scenario, production tends in these times to become more flexible, more agile, more resilient. “The factory of the future has to be more adaptable to possible changes in the competitive environment, sometimes produced by competitors, sometimes by events such as the pandemic,” says the director. Other changes have to do with digital products, whose manufacture is different from that of analog products. “Now we want products that perfectly match our needs and, with digital commerce, we want the delivery time to be very short,” says Escribano.
European funds for recovery can be a good fuel to modernize Spanish industry. On this path to Industry 4.0 and even 5.0, it is important to take into account several issues: understand that people are important, as the main managers of change; worry about sustainability and the circular economy that takes advantage of waste and reuses it; and know how to take advantage of the bouquet of new technologies (artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, internet of things, edge computing, etc).
In factories, 5.0 thousand (or tens of thousands) of sensors monitor processes, Edge Computing reacts on the ground by shortening production times, Artificial Intelligence extracts value from data and makes decisions, 5G allows a factory without cables , Blockchain technology deals with cybersecurity and trust in data exchange in industrial environment. “We are talking about a factory where mobility is the key word,” says Escribano, “a liquid factory where the different production models can be replicated or moved to another factory.”
“The new industry arises to put an end to repetitive work,” explains Humberto Bustince, professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at the Public University of Navarra, “and it has come to stay.” It emphasizes the importance of data as fuel for AI, depending on the quality of the data, the quality of the decisions will be, and it is important to overcome the biases that may occur. In these processes, it will be important to anonymize the data, “which will require a brutal basic investigation”, in the professor’s opinion. Also delve into data security and ask ourselves questions that we already asked 150 years ago in relation to the land: who is the owner? Who works it or who owns it? In the same way, we do not know if the data belongs to who produces it, who extracts it, who exploits it, etc. Another important point is how to date. “You have to establish legal, ethical and moral standards on how to collect the data,” says the professor. Algorithms must also be supervised by people and by ethical committees, so that technology is dominated by human beings and not vice versa.
“We are in a situation of technological change at breakneck speed and the industry has to adapt to these great changes just as each of us does in their daily lives,” says Belén García Molano, Director of Technology and Development for Airbus Defense and Space. The objective at Airbus, as in so many industries, is digitization, and responding to the demand of some customers who already want products on demand, with all the complications that this implies. One of the company’s most notorious projects is ZEROe, which seeks to produce a hydrogen-free aircraft by 2035 (and which has been selected as a finalist for the Retina Eco Awards). The human factor is also important: “The purpose is to put employees also at the center,” says García Molano, “if the industry seeks that sustainability, flexibility, competitiveness, everything is focused on our workers having greater added value and greater quality of life in the company ”.
European funds are an unavoidable opportunity to implement these changes. “We are facing a historic opportunity: the train is about to leave and you have to get on that train,” says Donato Martínez, director of Technologies and Digital Transformation at Navantia, “it will be necessary to have a collaboration exercise between ministries, companies, universities, etc”. In the case of Navantia, they have three pillars (sustainability, digitization and social responsibility) and an ambitious plan: the Digital Twin, a key concept for Shipyard 4.0, which consists of a 3D virtual reality replica of a physical product, which evolves by assimilating data and allows you to know in what state the real ship (the twin) is. Its development will also provide valuable information on design, operation and manufacturing.
Last but not least, for the digital development of the industry, there is a need for trained people who are not in abundance: the demand for profiles in disciplines such as computer engineering or data science is greater than the supply; Despite the technological panorama, technical vocations are scarce, especially among women. That is why an important requirement of this new industrial “reconversion” has to do with generating these vocations. The opposite would be a problem: “Without computing and Artificial Intelligence, Spanish industry will disappear”, concludes Professor Bustince.