The new generation of automated solutions brings operator control to personal devices. Sandvik Coromants CoroPlus uses Bluetooth to enable an operator to make changes to a boring unit from a PC laptop iPad or smartphone. Click image to enlarge

Canadian manufacturers are embracing digital technologies according to a new Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) study, "Industry 4.0: The New Industrial Revolution - Are Canadian manufacturers ready?"with close to 40 per cent of Canadian manufacturing businesses have started to implement digital projects.

The study also found that, while only 3 per cent of manufacturing SMEs have fully digitized their production, 17 per cent of manufacturing SMEs are preparing to do so.

The impact of this revolution promises to be remarkable and Canadian manufacturers have a lot of work to do to catch up. The BDC study draws its conclusions from a recent Canada-wide survey of 960 Canadian SME entrepreneurs.

Digital revolution in manufacturing. Image: TRUMPFClick image to enlarge

"Our study clearly demonstrates that it pays to embrace the digital shift," says Pierre Cleroux, chief economist and vice president of research at BDC. "The Canadian businesses that have been early adopters of digital technologies have increased their productivity, reduced their costs and improved the quality of their products. However, 42 per cent of Canadian manufacturing businesses have not yet initiated their digital shift. These businesses will be at a disadvantage against their competitors.

We are already witnessing the impact digital transformation is having in Europe and the U.S., where highly automated and flexible factories can now compete against low-cost factories in Asia. In order to survive, Canadian businesses must innovate, because the international competition is on the cutting edge of the digital Revolution."

According to the BDC study, businesses in Canada that have adopted the digitization of their production are forecasting higher growth, have enjoyed increased productivity and lower operating costs.

Quebec (45%), Manitoba and Saskatchewan (44%) top the list of provinces that have initiated the digital shift. British Columbia (39%) and Ontario (39%) come in mid-pack, Alberta follows with 35% and the Atlantic provinces trail behind at 32%.

The overall level of investment in these technologies remains low. The majority of Canadian SMEs have invested less than $100,000 compared with an international average of $261,000.

The BDC study says the main obstacles to implementation of digital technologies are the lack of a qualified workforce, excessive costs and the difficulty in understanding the benefits.

"The auto industry has strengthened considerably over the past few years," says AGS Automotive Systems' co-president Joe Loparco. "At the same time, digital technologies have become more affordable, user-friendly and robust. This convergence has allowed us to make more investment in the area of digital technologies. This has helped increase our productivity by allowing us to better mine and understand the data which drives our business success," .

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