By Jason MacFarlane, Head of Advanced Manufacturing, Venture Services, MaRS Discovery District
Canada trails the rest of the world leaders when it comes to manufacturing productivity. I don’t think there is anything controversial in that statement. The good news is that there’s still time to catch up.
By leveraging some of the advanced technologies that are available today — including machine learning, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), data analytics, and robotics — Canadian companies can level the playing field.
First, let’s consider the current state of Canadian manufacturing.
Quick paths to lower costs aren’t always the answer
Over the past 20 years, many Canadian companies have moved their manufacturing operations to low-cost regions, mainly in Asia. Others began sub-contracting their manufacturing requirements overseas. Both approaches result from cost cutting initiatives designed to make products less expensive and drive overall competitiveness.
These initiatives weaken supply chains, increase collaboration challenges, and force technical staff to travel greater distances to support product launches and on-going manufacturing operations.
On the contrary, having a local supply chain not only improves availability and time to market but it can also reduce energy consumption and diminish the environmental impacts associated with long-distance shipping.
Reduced investment equals weakened innovation
The challenge facing many companies today is that there has been little investment and few advancements in Canadian manufacturing over the past 20 years. Not surprisingly, in an environment where manufacturing is outsourced, innovation in this area has also diminished.
In my role as a strategic advisor to hardware-focussed manufacturing start-ups in Canada, I can attest to the fact that this is becoming a serious issue. As these companies move from prototype creation, through to early-stage fabrication, and into mass production, most are challenged to find cost-competitive local manufacturing support.
Let’s face it, few companies can afford to finance, establish, build, and tool their own dedicated manufacturing facilities. And few local companies offer these services on contract bases. As a result, new ventures are also looking overseas, starting the vicious cycle anew with every new enterprise. So, the million-dollar question becomes: what are the barriers preventing Canadian manufacturing firms from achieving productivity that is competitive on a global scale?
Cutting-edge advances can improve productivity
Canadian manufacturers can compete with companies around the world. The key is to shed our fear of cutting-edge advances that can improve productivity and worry less about jeopardizing existing jobs. By strengthening manufacturing competitiveness we will deliver greater value to our customers, businesses will strengthen, and high-quality careers will follow. Canadian businesses must leverage recent advances in machine learning, IIoT, data analytics, and robotics.
This shift will require commitment from government, academic institutions, and our entire industry, working together to drive Canadian manufacturing in a technology-driven direction for the next 20 years. Providing Canadian companies with robust local supply chains that embrace technology will level the playing field and let us compete with anyone, anywhere, any time.
Jason MacFarlane (https://cmts.ca/speakers/jason-macfarlane) will be participating in a panel discussion, “Barriers and Challenges of Manufacturing Competitiveness” at CMTS on Wednesday, September 27, at 10:30am. For more information, and to register, visit cmts.ca. Enter promo code BLOG at registration to save 30% off the conference list price or receive a free exhibit hall pass.