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Where are the local ‘lighthouses’?

Jan 28,2019
McKinsey and the World Economic Forum have jointly picked the world’s 16 “lighthouse factories” leading innovations of the manufacturing sector. They used the term “lighthouse” to signify the technological edge of those companies to brighten the future of manufacturing in the fourth industrial revolution. The 16 leading factories were located in Germany (five), the United States (three), and China, Taiwan, France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

The innovative growth taking place in those factories is amazing. A Siemens factory in Chengdu, China, has introduced a system enabling cutting-edge sensors and measurement gauges attached to production facilities to exchange information with all components and products the company produces. Thanks to the change, the factory lowered its proportion of defects to 0.001 percent even while producing over 100 kinds of products in the assembly line. Saudi Aramco was able to shorten the time needed to check the safety of its facilities by a whooping 90 percent by taking advantage of drones and digital helmets in its huge factories.

They all have one thing in common: capitalizing on technologies of the fourth industrial revolution such as artificial intelligence (AI), clouding, robotics and virtual reality (VR). Even though Korea is a global manufacturing powerhouse in areas such as semiconductors, shipbuilding and auto-making, no Korean company was included on the list. Maybe that’s not because our ICT technology is lagging far behind theirs.

To break out of the embarrassing reality, the government must ease regulations across the board. The “lighthouse factories’ were able to change the way their employees work by utilizing state-of-the-art technologies. They also focus on securing “smart labor” in their workplaces. So-called “smart factories” championed by our government are in line with innovations abroad. Without labor flexibility, however, that’s just a pipe dream. Here in Korea, companies must get consent from unions even when assigning workers to new assembly lines.

The manufacturing industry faces an unprecedented crisis, as seen in the lowest-ever operation rate of factories. The government has recently kicked off a campaign to revitalize the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector. But the public remains suspicious as it repeatedly flip-flopped on deregulation and pro-business strategies.

If the government dilly-dallies, companies can hardly beat their global competitors. The government must prove it is better than the previous administration in achieving innovations.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 28, Page 30