The global push to remove mundane repetitive tasks, boost productivity, and increase profits and market share has created demand for automation in Canada and abroad. As aging workers enter retirement, the manufacturing sector will require a steady pipeline of technologically skilled professionals that can contribute to a fast paced sector. Automated processes offer a stop gap measure; however for sustained growth in automation, finding workers to operate the automated systems and work on the “smart” processing lines will require employers to develop attractive employment programs to recruit young workers faster and smarter. Educational curriculums will need to encompass how the employment landscape is changing with merging Information and Operational Technologies heightened by the Internet of Things (IoT).
The automation sector has the opportunity to expand beyond the main subsectors of industrial manufacturing with the dramatic growth of eCommerce. This trend is creating demand for innovative automated systems and solutions integrated with intelligence to increase production flexibility, improved time to market, and improved asset utilization. In response to growing consumer demand in emerging markets, automation solutions will require a combination of Information Technology (IT), Operational Technology (OT), industrial robotics, and the connectivity of the IoT to deliver information on demand that operators can act upon in real time.
Barriers exist for companies that develop automated solutions and for companies that adopt automation on their production lines, which challenges future growth in the automation and robotics sector in Canada. For companies that develop automation solutions, greater access to funding and a streamlined application process with respect to SR&ED could greatly enhance innovation and reduce financial uncertainty for risk adverse companies. Implementing a tiered SR&ED program aligned to company size, product innovation and industry sector will enable small and medium sized companies to participate in the program with less cumbersome requirements providing them the opportunity to focus energy and effort on commercialization.
As digitization continues to expand, so does the need for industrial manufacturing companies to find skilled labour such as software engineers, instrumentation and control professionals, IT support technicians, and design and production engineers motivated to work in an evolving manufacturing sector. Many companies are experiencing difficulty attracting talent due in part because many young people (post-graduates) entering the workforce perceive manufacturing as “Blue Collar.” Limited skills to manage automation equipment and processes may inhibit companies’ ability to adopt automation. Educating youth about the opportunities available in manufacturing can help promote a steady pipeline of talent to automation companies and high-tech industrial manufacturers.
In order for Canadian companies to succeed, they need to make strong inroads in the global arena, especially in emerging markets where demand for industrial automation is growing rapidly. Canadian companies face barriers to competing globally in advanced and emerging markets partly due to limited funding opportunities and hooks for ownership of intellectual property. Encouraging Trade Commissioners to develop programs to attract foreign and Canadian companies to learn about Canadian product innovations will help promote adoption and investment in automation. Programs that address trade agreements to encourage cross border cooperation will further enhance Canadian companies’ ability to compete globally, as will the development of a data base that matches industrial Canadian companies with foreign companies for commercialization opportunities.
In closing, profiling the Canadian automation and robotic industry through a multimedia platform to foreign companies collectively with an incentive program will further stimulate Canadian innovation growth.