Recent years have seen increasing signs of the emergence of what has been dubbed a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), also known as Industry 4.0. This revolution relies on machine-to-machine communication, also sometimes known as the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing and artificial intelligence.
The shift has a number of important implications. The most well documented is the potential for automation to disrupt labour markets. A related potential consequence is that outsourcing to low-wage countries may start to lose its attractiveness, as the use of robots allows producers to relocate production facilities back to major consumer markets. The trend will arguably be particularly advantageous for wealthier regions that have the financial capacity to implement the infrastructure for such new technologies. In keeping with this trend, the shift towards Industry 4.0 is rapidly gaining momentum in the GCC, including Bahrain.
Preparing the Ground
The Bahraini authorities are working on a wide range of initiatives to facilitate the kingdom’s transition towards Industry 4.0, with the aim of becoming a regional hub for 4IR-relevant technologies. These include an initiative with advanced analytics platform provider QiO to establish several 4IR pilot projects in the kingdom. Government-backed business support services provider Tamkeen and the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) announced a project in July 2017 to automate facilities at local composites technology firm BFG International’s facilities in Bahrain, using software from QiO, with plans to eventually expand this to the company’s international operations. Tamkeen is providing BD1.2m ($3.2m) to support the project. Tamkeen is also working on an Industry 4.0 project to improve the supply chain at local manufacturer Bahrain Fibreglass.
The board has commissioned a study around Industry 4.0, looking at marketing opportunities as well as the possibility of establishing a new 4IR solutions company in Bahrain. “We foresee 4IR as the natural next step for the industrial sector in Bahrain,” Dana Abdullah, manager of business development for manufacturing, transport and logistics at the EDB, told OBG in July 2018. She added that the authorities also plan to hold an industry workshop on 4IR that will identify key measures that need to be implemented in order to allow companies to transition to Industry 4.0. In February 2019 Bahrain is also set to hold a conference on 4IR in the Gulf International Convention Centre.
Private manufacturers are taking steps of their own. “Companies undertaking large capital investment projects in Bahrain are increasingly focusing on new technologies, which in time will lead to the development of Industry 4.0 in the kingdom,” Bader Alsaad, director at the Industrial Areas Operations Directorate, told OBG, noting that food companies for example were increasingly investing in automation.
In keeping with Bahrain’s plans to develop itself as a regional digital centre, initiatives are similarly under way in the ICT sector to help develop some of the technologies on which Industry 4.0 depends. Two local IoT-focused incubation and acceleration initiatives launched in 2018, both involving Hong Kong-based start-up investor Brinc. In mid-2018 it was announced that Bahrain Polytechnic would host a centre for artificial intelligence, due to be launched in 2019.
Next-Generation Mobile Data
A key facilitator of Industry 4.0 will be the rollout of 5G mobile internet networks, with much lower latency – the time it takes for a packet of data to move across a network – than previous generations of mobile data services (see ICT chapter). This will allow for fast enough machine-tomachine communication to make technologies such as automated vehicles feasible. The first commercial 5G networks worldwide were set to enter into operation in late 2018 and 2019. While a launch date for 5G in Bahrain has not yet been announced, network operators are preparing to upgrade to the new standard once they have all received their bandwidth allocations.
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