Read: Technology and harnessing its benefits – how manufacturers need to build ecosystems to create a smart future for all

By Neil Harrington

As the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region continues to shift and develop at a remarkable pace, technology has already transformed the way we go about our daily lives.

From flying taxis to industrial robots, Industrial Revolution 4.0 or 4IR, characterised by digitisation, continues to attract significant investments in the UAE and wider Gulf and is rewriting the rules of traditional manufacturing.

But its transformative qualities can – and must – have a greater reach in a region which is among the most highly connected in the world. It is also has a region which has strong recognition that – during a global time of both challenges and opportunities –  it is only technology that can provide the answer in a digital landscape that is dramatically different than that of just a decade ago.

We simply do not have the comfort or flexibility of delaying a response to the disruption we are seeing in industries – particularly manufacturing which has remained at the forefront in harnessing the potential of these technologies.

This is not something for another generation to address.

At Kingsbury Gulf, we are witnessing growing interest for 3D metal printing for instance – also called ‘additive manufacturing’. UAE manufacturers clearly understand that this is no longer just a prototyping business. Thousands of components across the world are now being produced using 3D printing as a replacement to traditionally manufactured parts.

Can anyone imagine how fast this is going to impact the whole world’s production universe as we embrace smart factories of the future?

Local manufacturers including smaller-scale players are now taking advantage of having access to advanced engineering technology.

A testimony of this is our recent deal with Saftech – a Ras al Khaimah based manufacturer of metal-based products for numerous industries. Kingsbury Gulf will provide Saftech with one of the most advanced milling machines in the world, the Hermle C400U 5-axis. The new equipment will significantly scale up their production and change their customer’s perspective of Saftech’s capabilities. With a full service & support team also present locally, Saftech knows they will not be on their own to embrace Industrial Revolution 4.0.

Flexible factories such as Saftech’s are precisely the ones who will stand out and lead the market tomorrow.

They challenge global supply chains and opens the door for localised and efficient production that creates economic diversification and prosperity which the country’s leadership is pushing. The deal, inked during January’s 16th SteelFab trade show, further consolidates our growing presence in the Emirates and the wider Gulf.

But we must build more of such ecosystems and place ourselves in the position to nurture homegrown ideas, conduct meaningful, tangible, and focused homegrown research, and develop disruptive homegrown tech products that align with our own priorities.

On a regional basis, we have the capacity to make close, regular, and valuable interaction between researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and potential end-users of technology possible.

Add this to the fact that the MENA region retains the resources to put an infrastructural and support framework in place that allows ideas to be captured, matured, and realised.

In order to build an ecosystem of this kind, we must first look at the materials – infrastructural, and human – that we already have at our disposal.

Paramount among them is the youth of our population.

The MENA region is home to millions of young people who are not only well-versed in digital technology, but who recognise its pivotal role in advancing society and securing long-term prosperity, and who have their own ideas for products and solutions that can bring tangible benefit at a national and regional level, while also having commercial potential on a global scale.

In many quarters of the MENA region, there is already the basis of a successful and vibrant research and technology development ecosystem, where innovation is being given free rein and cutting-edge research is being conducted.

However, this must be the precursor to another ecosystem – one that is focused on product development and entrepreneurship, and from which solutions that generate economic and social benefit emerge.

Our culture of innovation and entrepreneurship needs to attract and empower people who can take science and tech development to the next level, by transforming it into a product capable of commercialisation and impact.

Creating something completely new comes with risk and the reality that failure will be a more common feature than success.

It is a tough environment. But if the MENA region is to genuinely embrace, and foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, it must be prepared not just to accept that reality, but actively support it.

The roots of this culture exist, but their growth can be accelerated through working on a regional, collaborative basis, with shared overarching values and goals, and the willingness to support each other’s progress, leverage each other’s innovations and technologies, and contribute to each other’s success.

The challenges facing our region will not simply disappear. The opportunity they present will. We have the awareness, the resources, the connectivity, the human capacity, and the vibrancy of young people with ideas and a desire to innovate, contribute, and succeed. We have an array of advantages. Now we must decide if, and how, we want to capitalise on them.

Neil Harrington is Regional Director & General Manager of Kingsbury Gulf.