From 8-11 July, some 2,500 senior representatives of governments and businesses from around the world gathered in the Russian industrial city of Yekaterinburg to discuss the future of manufacturing.

In particular, the Global Manufacturing & Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) 2019 focused on the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – the next iteration of industrial development, and on the opportunities and challenges that it is creating. Most importantly, it examined how policymakers and companies can position themselves to make the most of Industry 4.0.

The event was hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he delivered a provocative keynote address, focused on two primary themes that are redefining the industrial sector.

GMIS 2019First, the impact of advanced digital data technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, virtual reality and augmented reality in the manufacturing process. And second, the growing trend for nature-led and nature-inspired technology, where designers and manufacturers adapt structures and designs found in nature to shape their products and processes. This includes the development of new bio-materials and the emerging science of biomimicry.

The event also examined the potential for emerging technology to support socio-economic development. Examples included the role of data in enabling smart cities and the way in which agricultural technology is opening up opportunities for energy-efficient and space-efficient urban farming and vertical farming.

Right at the heart of proceedings was Abu Dhabi.

Industrial Abu Dhabi

It is perhaps surprising to see Abu Dhabi, better known for its oil production than for its industrial capability, holding such a leading role at a global manufacturing summit. Yet together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Abu Dhabi is the founder and co-chair of the GMIS initiative, and its prominence at the summit highlights the growing importance that the UAE is placing on the development of advanced manufacturing to its economic plans.

In a keynote address to the summit, UAE Minister of Energy and Industry Suhail al-Mazrouei said Abu Dhabi has put advanced manufacturing at the heart of its economic strategy and is aiming to be a leading player in the fourth industrial revolution worldwide.

“Through our partnership with UNIDO, we are spreading this commitment and sharing this vision with the rest of the world, by encouraging policymakers to place advanced industrial sectors at the heart of their national development programmes,” he said.

The UAE has launched several initiatives to stimulate the development of advanced manufacturing in the country. These include the UAE 4th Industrial Revolution Strategy, the National Advanced Innovation Strategy and the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy.

Advanced technology will also help the UAE achieve its sustainable development goals, said Al-Mazrouei. “The UAE aims to cut its carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2050,” he told the summit.

SME strategy

Abu Dhabi additionally wants to stimulate business in the UAE through advanced manufacturing startups and plans to launch an industrial fund by the end of the year that will support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the industrial sector.

Speaking on an Abu Dhabi panel moderated by MEED, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi Industrial Development Board Ahmed al-Balooshi said the emirate had updated its policies and legislation to make it easier for SMEs to invest in the industrial sector.

“SMEs are an essential part of the emirate’s diversification plans,” said Al-Balooshi. “To support them, Abu Dhabi has been revising labour and land lease regulations. We are putting a lot of effort into reducing the operational cost of SMEs and entrepreneurs.”

Abu Dhabi’s industrial strategy has until now focused on the development of three anchor industries – petrochemicals, aluminium and steel. Al-Balooshi said the next phase of development will involve establishing downstream manufacturing clusters around these three core industries. The new fund, he said, will help new companies to set up.

Speaking on the same panel, Emirates Steel CEO Saeed al-Romaithi said the company seeks to become a catalyst for a downstream steel industry by increasing flat steel production. The firm will invest in a new flat steel production plant, although details are yet to be announced.

Another Emirates Steel initiative, noted Al-Romaithi, is to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent through a joint carbon capture project with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). He also said hydrogen has the potential to become a new, clean fuel for steel manufacturing, replacing natural gas.

Building relationships

GMIS 2019 highlighted Abu Dhabi’s plans to build industrial ties with markets around the world, including Russia.

Al-Mazrouei said there were growing investments between Russia and the UAE. “We are proud of our cooperation with Russia and we aim to promote greater overall cooperation between both sides,” he said.

A prime mover in Abu Dhabi’s growing relations with Russia is Abu Dhabi-owned sovereign wealth fund Mubadala.

Speaking at the summit, Mubadala Investment Company CEO Khaldoon al-Mubarak said Russia was an important partner for Mubadala and the UAE, and that investments would grow.

“Mubadala has made more than 40 investments in Russia,” he said. “It has had very good returns and it is looking to invest more.”

Al-Mubarak said diversification is as important to Mubadala as it is to the UAE. Over the past 20 years, Mubadala’s investment portfolio has gone from being 100 per cent focused on the energy sector to under 20 per cent, he said.

Advanced technology is also important for Mubadala’s future investment strategy.

“Artificial intelligence is coming fast,” he said. “It will revolutionise industry. Companies that invest in tech as early as possible will win. Companies that go defensive will not survive. We have to find and invest in winners at an early stage.”

“The US, China and Russia will dominate tech development in the future,” he said. “We are investing in the US. We are investing in China. And we very interested in investing in Russia in the tech space.”