Commentary Sponsored

Automation: An Imperative for Big and Small in New Brunswick

Educational institutions like NBCC can be partners in technological innovation. Image: touroff.com

How much do you know about innovative Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs? This commentary is part of a special feature showcasing exciting initiatives occurring in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we will introduce you to the success of innovative men and women across the region that are making an impact on the economy. This special feature is sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Geoff Flood will tell you that if you don’t have a roadmap for Artificial Intelligence and Big Data then you have some urgent work to do. As President of T4G Limited, and one of the newest members of the NB Business Council, he recently spoke with the Council about disruptive technologies and how companies should respond – the sooner the better.

Often, small companies think these technologies are for the big players, and sometimes, big players struggle to overlay new technologies alongside current ways of doing things. Increasingly advanced robotics and automation have quickly become a fact of life in almost every industry. We can’t afford to be left behind.

The big take away from the Council’s discussion with Flood? It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to develop an innovation roadmap that is integrated with your overall business strategy.

Working with local business advice and analytics companies to brainstorm even just 30 ways that your organization can incorporate automation could lay the foundation for investments that will allow New Brunswick businesses to step up and compete internationally.

Companies worldwide are investing over $900-billion (U.S.) per year until 2020 on what are being called Industry 4.0 technologies which include advanced robotics and analytics, 3D printing and automation of processes and production.

While countries like the United States witnessed manufacturing investment in machinery and equipment rise by 58 per cent, in 2014 Canada’s machinery and equipment expenditures fell 4.9 per cent to $8.4 billion – the lowest level in 30 years.

New Brunswick companies cannot ignore this trend and expect to survive as an export economy.

Our province has many of the elements needed for companies to invest: IT companies that can develop a roadmap and assist in the development and execution of these new technologies, R&D capabilities like UNB’s Marine Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence and partners such as The New Brunswick Community College, Collège Communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, who provide leadership in workforce development and training to ensure the right skills are available in the changing labour force.

The province also boasts innovative users of technology, and many companies that are stellar examples of investment in Industry 4.0 technologies – from refineries to lobster processing. These leaders can provide mentorship and guidance to companies looking to explore and invest in change and disruption across industries.

Historically, New Brunswick has struggled in the realm of productivity, operating at only 82 per cent of the national average in Canada.  This is our opportunity to invest in technologies that could allow New Brunswick companies to leapfrog to the next generation of production and automation.

According to data from BDC’s Report on Industry 4.0, only 32 per cent of small and medium-sized manufacturers in Atlantic Canada have implemented digital technologies. Those are the technologies that will help manufacturers compete globally. What’s more, the region is lagging behind all other provinces in the country, where the national implementation average is 39 percent. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency committed to increasing its share of investment in programs that support innovation from 50 per cent of its business development programs to 70 per cent in the coming years.  This kind of support will give companies the boost they need to make much-needed investments in automation and advanced manufacturing.

Automation and advanced manufacturing can create higher paying, skilled jobs to retain our graduates and attract talent from across the globe to industries here in the province.   These technologies apply to sectors where NB currently plays a leadership role – food processing, information technology, back-office support and natural resources.

If you don’t think automation is for you, think again.

Adrienne O’Pray is president and CEO of the New Brunswick Business Council.