Global Manufacturing and Industrial Summit and Mubadala Aerospace head Badr Al-Olama on how emerging technologies can change entire societies and improve the lives of billions - if done right
As the head of the organising committee of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) and Mubadala Aerospace, Badr Al-Olama has what many would consider a broad and ambitious goal: to change the future role of manufacturing in society, simultaneously putting the UAE at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while at the same time helping the world achieve sustainable development and, ultimately, prosperity for all.
Established in 2015, GMIS – a joint initiative of the UAE’s Ministry of the Economy and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) is an industry association with the stated aim of bridging the gaps between manufacturers, governments, NGOs, technologists and investors to use manufacturing to help regenerate the global economy.
In the UAE, few are better placed than Al-Olama to see what the future of manufacturing holds for the UAE, the region, and the world. Before becoming director of aerospace at Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, Al-Olama was CEO of Strata, Mubadala’s aerospace company, and has played an important advisory role in the development of Nibras Al Ain Aerospace Park and is a board member of the UAE Space Agency.
Speaking to Arabian Business, Al-Olama says that the world is now at the cusp of an important inflection point when it comes to industry. “Historically, manufacturing has brought about substantial economic and social changes that result in more wealth, a higher standard of living, and greater education and training opportunities,” he explains. “Safeguarding its long-term sustainability has always been absolutely critical…it is central to how developed countries have been able to mature economies that deliver on the wellbeing and health of their citizens. This is because manufacturing is more than what we are able to make. It is about cultivating the knowledge needed to make products, build skill sets, and nurture technological improvements to drive economic growth.”
It is not just our employment that will shift, but our relationship with manufacturing at its core
New and still emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, cloud computing and 3D printing, however, have brought with them a new set of challenges, and concerns regarding the long-term employment prospects of many current manufacturing jobs. According to research from Korn Ferry, for example, 60 percent of UAE business leaders believe a “talent deficit” will hit the country as early as 2020, while another 50 percent said they believe that a third of the existing workforce will no longer be needed in a decade, along with 20 percent of the total number of human roles.
In Al-Olama’s eyes, however, such concerns are largely unfounded, provided that the labour force of the future can adjust in time. “The question remains whether this adaption and convergence [of new technology] really changes the way we work, positively or otherwise,” he says. “For example, despite the introduction of AI and robotics, multiple studies have shown that a skilled workforce will always be necessary to complete specific tasks within the manufacturing realm. Indeed [it may be the case] that this technology will create more jobs than it replaces.
The workers of the near future, he explains, will not necessarily have their jobs replaced by machines, but will be required to adapt to what he terms “hybrid roles” in which professionals work alongside innovations to facilitate production and decision-making. As an example, he points to the introduction of robotics to the manufacturing sector. “This allows higher levels of work flexibility as monotonous or repetitive tasks are overtaken by machines, allowing workers to focus on creative or competitive thinking,” he notes. “It also improves workplace safety, as robots can be used in unsafe or tense environments without risk of personal injury.”
Additionally, Al-Olama points to additive manufacturing – more commonly known as 3D printing – which he says will increasingly be used by manufacturers as they strive to improve precision, produce less waste, reduce CO2 emissions, and cut down on transportation miles by manufacturing onsite, or even in people’s homes. Notably, in the UAE, Strata is among one of the companies that is already making this a reality, having last year announced a partnership with Siemens and Etihad to 3D-print parts for aircraft interiors.
For the workforce of the future, Al-Olama says, this all creates unprecedented opportunities. “It is not just employment that will shift, but our relationship with manufacturing at its core…no longer does manufacturing mean a career in a factory or lab, but instead it offers working with cutting-edge technology utilising computer, data, coding and analytical skills,” he says. “However, as the shift is so dramatic a skills gap has emerged - the world needs more coders. Consequently, to ensure the full scale of the 4IR is realised, particularly in the manufacturing sector, an international initiative to shift, train and retain skills towards digitisation is needed, urgently.”
An international shift to train skills towards digitisation is needed, urgently
Looking to the future, Al-Olama says that the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will extend far past factory floors, and – if things go smoothly – may ultimately help entire nations to develop and meet the 17 global sustainable development goals (SDGs) set by the UN General Assembly in 2015. To this end, GMIS has launched the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, which seeks to unite manufacturers, innovators and entrepreneurs with UN agencies, academics and philanthropists improve the lives of people around the world through ‘making’.
According to Al-Olama, the initiative and its goals must be examined in context. “Potential for sustainable development across many less developed countries is stymied by severe structural impediments, their vulnerability to economic and environmental shifts and shocks,” he says. “This is the situation more than 880 million people, about 12 percent of the world’s population, face.”
The end goal of the newly formed initiative, as Al-Olama sees it, is to create an ecosystem that is built on collaboration and partnerships that can serve to empower members of society through design, manufacturing, technology and innovation.
“Our objective is to ensure that the transformation of manufacturing not only equips the sector to thrive amid the disruptive change brought about by the 4IR, but that this transformation happens in alignment with the SDGs,” he explains. “Ideas will be channelled, developed, perfected and progressed to the point where they are more than just ideas, bringing real benefit to those who need it most.”
To build this ecosystem, Al-Olama and the initiative have created a programme they’ve termed the “Global Maker Challenge, which is an online, open-innovation platform that offers an opportunity for innovators to connect with each other and work together to solve real-world problems broadly fitting within one of four themes: sustainable energy, digital divide and digital literacy, rural transformation and zero hunger and sustainable cities. Challenge award winners can win up to $1m in prizes to make their projects a reality.
Manufacturing is more than what we are able to make. It is about cultivating the knowledge needed to make products
To highlight the possibilities, Al-Olama says that the implementation and innovation of technology in rural areas can have a very tangible and measurable impact on hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
“We have asked our community of makers to consider how farmers in less developed countries can increase food and cash crop yields through advanced methods of sustainable agricultural production and preservation,” he says. “The solutions will allow for the production of higher yields with less land, water and labour and improve coordination within the value chain of rural farmers, which supports sustainable food production, reduces post-harvest losses and facilitates market access in favour of farmers. It will also increase access to such technologies for vulnerable populations, especially women.”
This example that the initiative has set in motion, which places manufacturing and product solutions at the heart of solving the world’s everyday challenges, stands at the heart of what Al-Olama believes that manufacturing can accomplish.
“These are ideas that are affordable and reliable and making a real difference to our world,” he says. “In manufacturing in particular, we are confident integrating such innovations will allow us to realise a dream that we have been pursuing for centuries – prosperity for all.”
In July 2019, GMIS will hold its second summit in the Russian city of Yakaterinburg, one of Russia’s most important manufacturing and economic hubs. First announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2018, the event will revolve around the theme of “nature-inspired technologies” such as biomimetic design and biomimicry, the science of mapping design challenges to the natural world.
The first GMIS summit – held in 2017 at Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi – focused on the role of manufacturing in reconstructing the global economy through technology and innovation, global value chains, employment and education, infrastructure, standards and stakeholder alignment.
In March 2017, Mubadala, the Dubai Future Foundation GE Additive announced that they were coming together to establish the region’s first micro-factory, which the companies said would play a “crucial” role in upskilling the region’s workforce to use 3D-printing manufacturing technology to make specialised components. According to GE, one micro-factory in Abu Dhabi will focus on helping local industrial companies speed up their adoption of additive manufacturing and design, while another in Dubai will focus on consumer goods and service companies. Each facility will hold a number of 3D printers.
In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which specified 17 separate sustainable development goals, or SDGs. Based on the principle of ‘leaving no one behind”, the agenda is meant as a holistic approach to sustainable development. Among the UN’s sub-goals in the SDGs are the eradication of extreme poverty of below $1.25 per day, ending malnutrition by 2035, doubling the agricultural outcomes of small-scale producers, achieving at least seven percent GDP growth per annum in the world’s least developed countries, upgrading and retrofitting industries to make them sustainable, and “substantially” increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
Last week, Abu Dhabi was officially selected to be the host city for the 2019 United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) General Conference. The General Conference is scheduled to be held at the end of 2019 and will be preceded by UNIDO’s Least Developed Countries Ministerial Conference.