Editor’s comment: Industry 5.0 – Digital transformation post-COVID…

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

03 March 2021

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

Just 12 short months ago – almost to the day, as I write this in February 2021 – EPDT published its first coronavirus-related news story. Concerns about the virus escalated rapidly during the second half of January 2020, as more information emerged about the situation in China, the first cases were reported in Europe (on the 24th), and the WHO (World Health Organization) declared a PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) on 30th January.

A version of this editorial leader was originally featured in the March 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

On 12th February 2020, GSMA finally cancelled the world’s largest mobile telecoms show, Mobile World Congress, due to be held in Barcelona from 24-27th February.

During the previous two weeks, GSMA repeatedly insisted MWC would go ahead, maintaining that it was monitoring and assessing the situation, putting in place protocols and following WHO recommendations to mitigate risk (including sanitizer stations, mic handover protocols and a no handshake policy). But a raft of late large exhibitor cancellations in the wake of the escalating crisis forced its hand – and the gigantic show (which typically attracts over 100,000 visitors and over 2,000 exhibitors) was unceremoniously pulled less than two weeks before it was due to go ahead. Of course, it wasn’t the last, with many shows (and other events) being forced to cancel or postpone throughout 2020. Although that same 25-27 February week, I travelled by plane – my last international trip, as it turns out – to Nuremberg, Germany for embedded world, which did go ahead (albeit, at reduced scale, with lower exhibitor and delegate numbers).

But although the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed unprecedented restrictions on many aspects of our lives over the past 12 months – from work and study to travel, entertainment and even socializing with family and friends – it has also arguably accelerated digital transformation.

During this past year, I’ve written plenty about the impact of coronavirus on our sector, including: reassessing global supply chain risks; reconsidering the role of large events and shows; accelerating technology adoption curves; how the STEM community and manufacturing sector quickly pivoted to support the fight against the virus; how COVID-19 is impacting UK manufacturing and driving adoption of IoT & Industry 4.0; smart manufacturing in a post-pandemic world; the economic impact of COVID-19 on the electronics industry; and the role our industry can play in creating a more sustainable and circular post-pandemic economy.

Digital transformation has been a hot topic for business and industry for over a decade, but the pandemic has further accelerated this focus. Companies are increasingly looking to digital technologies to help them increase the speed, efficiency, agility and, crucially, resilience of their operations. As FT reported last October, “The pandemic is driving a shift in companies’ use of technology, making automation and digitalisation one of the few winners from this year’s economic turbulence”, with IFR (International Federation of Robotics) forecasting the number of robots in use to almost double between the end of 2019 and 2021. In January, the European Engineering Industries Association (EUnited) released its European charter for robots and humans working together, defining 10 focus areas to shape the future of work – putting humans at the centre, with robots relieving workers of dull, repetitive work, and assisting humans, not the other way round.

Also in January 2021, the European Commission released its report, “Industry 5.0”, outlining how the EU’s post-COVID recovery will require acceleration of both green and digital transitions to build a more sustainable, human-centric and resilient society and economy. In common with Japan’s Society 5.0 concept (which is all about solving societal problems with technology), the report highlights the potential of industry to be a provider of prosperity through helping achieve societal goals beyond simply jobs and growth, by making it respect sustainability and the limited resources of our planet, and prioritise the wellbeing of industrial workers. The UK may no longer be part of the EU – but it will surely want to watch how this initiative unfolds in its closest trading partners...

EPDT March 2021's issue also contains features on Displays technologies and Communications applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

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