The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) presented its Industrial Development Report (IDR) 2020: Industrializing in the digital age at the event “Thailand: Driving towards Industry 4.0”, organized in cooperation with the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA). During the event DEPA released the results of a new survey on the adoption and diffusion of Industry 4.0 among manufacturing firms in Thailand. This survey is a follow-up to the survey implemented in collaboration with UNIDO in 2019 for use in the IDR 2020. Almost 100 participants joined the event, both in person and online.
Opening the event, Stein Hansen, UNIDO Regional Director and Representative of UNIDO Regional Office Hub in Thailand, highlighted how the IDR 2020 is contributing to the debate on the emergence and diffusion of new digital technologies clustered around the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
“We are living in an era of major technological changes, in which the blurring of the boundaries between physical and digital worlds discloses new opportunities to develop modern manufacturing industries,” he said, emphasizing how new digital production technologies can generate opportunities but also pose new challenges to developing and emerging economies.
Nuttapon Nimmanphatcharin, CEO and President of DEPA, said that Thailand needs to focus on Industry 4.0 and future industries such as clean and renewable energy, robotics and smart devices. He stressed that DEPA has been actively supporting the creation of a digital ecosystem, as shown by the promotion of the Thailand Digital Valley Landscape.
Presenting IDR 2020, Alejandro Lavopa, UNIDO Research Officer, drew attention to the potential of digital technologies to become a key driver of inclusive and sustainable industrial development. However, the diffusion of these technologies is limited and highly concentrated in few countries and firms, as shown by the data collected in Thailand in 2019.
Lavopa stressed that strengthening industrial capabilities remains a major avenue to engage with new technologies. “Thailand is well positioned to exploit the opportunities opened by these technologies, but the challenge is fostering the indigenous production of digital technologies and their local adoption,” he concluded.
This view was also shared by Kasititorn Pooparadai, Senior Executive and Vice President of DEPA. When presenting the results of the follow-up survey on Industry 4.0 conducted this year, she pointed out that the majority of firms are still employing outdated production technologies.
“Less than 1% of surveyed firms use the latest generation of digital technologies”, she said, “but many expect to engage with these technologies in the next five to 10 years.” A key challenge ahead is to find ways to support them embracing the 4IR, she concluded.
The event continued the discussion of how Thailand can move towards Industry 4.0, with a panel of experts including Keun Lee, Professor at Seoul National University; Kasititorn Pooparadai from DEPA; Ubonwam Lordngeon, Senior Planning and Policy Analyst at the Office of Industrial Economics, Ministry of Industry; Niti Mekmok, President of Thai IoT Association; and Nobuya Haraguchi, Chief of the UNIDO Research and Industrial Policy Advice Division.
Moving towards the 4IR is a long-term project and the COVID-19 crisis is not going to be a long-term constraint for Thailand, where the impact of the pandemic seems to have been milder. “Forty-three per cent of firms reported a drop in sales and only 8% will consider cutting up to 25% of employees, which are both lower than the averages for Asia,” said Haraguchi, quoting a UNIDO survey on the impact of COVID-19. Professor Lee also emphasized that, even if risky, Thailand could escape the middle-income trap and accelerate the catching-up process by leapfrogging to Industry 4.0.
All panellists agreed on the importance of raising awareness about the potential of these technologies, and that an effective collaboration across stakeholders is the way forward to overcome barriers to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. DEPA’s Pooparadai concluded that this event paved the way for further collaboration between UNIDO and DEPA to drive Thailand into the 4IR.