Is Poland at the vanguard of Industry 4.0?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is no longer a concept but a reality in Poland. But how are local companies negotiating the new tech frontier and what is the government doing to help?

In Poland, just as everywhere around the world, mass production is giving way to niche – sometimes even tailored – individual production, at a faster pace than ever before. The rise of 3D printing and ‘batch-size-one’ production is ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and those who have embraced it are stealing customers and market share from those who still don’t know what it means. The government has taken an active role, with the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Technology offering 30m zł in investment to Polish companies to help them become leaders in Industry 4.0. “We must do everything to find ourselves among the leaders of countries and leaders of economies using artificial intelligence because there is no turning back from the applications of AI in all sectors of the economy,” announced Marek Zagorski, Minister of Digital Affairs, this September at the ‘Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence’ conference (NASK) in Warsaw.

In 2016 the European Union defined Industry 4.0 as “the organisation of production processes based on technology and devices autonomously communicating with each other along the value chain: a model of the ‘smart’ factory of the future where computer-driven systems monitor physical processes and make decentralised decisions based on self-organisation mechanisms.” Others extend the definition to include services and administrative processes that have been automated.

A collaboration between two tech startups, PIRXON and Antal, created Poland’s first robot job agency this year. These ‘digital employees’ are now used to handle repetitive and tedious activities, freeing up human employees to do more demanding or creative tasks. Boniface, the robot created to help search for candidates, works efficiently, shortening the recruitment process by one third, according to PIRXON. “A digital employee has many advantages: it does not make mistakes, take a holiday or get sick, and can work 24 hours a day,” said Artur Skiba, President of Antal. “Furthermore, by taking over repetitive and high-volume processes, robots enable the development of employees in more advanced areas of the company’s operations. They reduce the risk of errors, but most importantly, they allow the company to focus on additional activities.”

PIRXON has also worked in the industrial sector with lighting producer Lumileds, creating a robot worker to process invoices. This time the robotic process automation (RPA) saved the company 80% in costs and the company was able to increase invoice generation from 60 invoices to 200 per day. It is these savings and productivity gains that will allow Industry 4.0 to help SMEs to compete at home and abroad.

Not everybody is so optimistic. As Julia Patorska of Deloitte warns: “Polish industry is fragmented. We lack large enterprises with significant capital, where more is spent on research and development, and economies of scale significantly increase productivity. Technological advancement issues can be another barrier. Deloitte’s survey on the maturity of the start-up ecosystem also confirms the distance that we share with leading economies in this area. Poland is not yet ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is comforting that in many other markets Industry 4.0 is also just beginning.”

Emerging cities, according to World Economic Forum experts, have a promising future – if they can intelligently harness the rapid and disruptive technological change of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Poland Today will further explore this topic at its ‘Emerging Cities & 4IR’ conference in Bydgoszcz on 21 November 2019. Click here to register.

Factories of the future

One leading company that has built a state-of-the-art facility in Poland is Amica. At 46.5 metres high, 136 metres long and with a surface area of nearly 6,500 sqm, their high bay warehouse in Wronki, Wielkopolska, is one of the biggest in Europe. It can store 230,000 large household appliances and the automated steering system is capable of processing about 1,600 items per hour. After winning an award for ‘Innovation in Industry 4.0’ for the factory at the International Intelligent Development Forum 3.0 Marcin Bilik, Vice President of Amica, said: “As a producer of household appliances, which sells in 60 countries around the world and exports 70% of Polish production, we must be technologically and productively innovative, and take on the challenges associated with Industry 4.0. Without this, with the competition that characterises our industry, we would not have any chance.”

Nowy Styl, the Polish furniture manufacturer, has embraced the idea of batch-size-one production at their modern factory in Jasło, a small town in the south-east of Poland. Batchsize-one production refers to the ability of a manufacturer to produce a small number of items for costs similar to a large run of products. Nowy Styl is recognised as one of the leading manufacturers in Europe, supplying chairs to sports stadiums and even to a G20 conference, and is an example of a family-run company based outside a major metropolitan centre that has embraced automation and achieved success in a modern way.

Wiśniowski, a manufacturer of gates, fences and doors based in the small southern town of Wielogłowy, has also been a pioneer in Poland. “In 2004, we managed to develop the Industry 4.0 standard without any outside assistance and we currently consider ourselves to be experts in the field,” said Tomasz Długopolski, Technical Development Director at Wiśniowski. “The simultaneous use of automation, data exchange and processing and production technologies leads the Wiśniowski brand towards creating a ‘smart factory’ where the systems autonomously make decentralised decisions regarding production and control all the related processes, while at the same time communicating with humans and each other in real time. It is a revolution of sorts.”

Code doesn’t take a <br>eak

There is a growing infrastructure of service companies dedicated to helping manufacturers achieve these smart factories and integrate automated solutions. “The pinnacle of Industry 4.0 is a lights-out factory or logistics centre. Such installations already exist in Poland – Amica’s warehouse near Wronki is fully automated,” said Tomasz Deptuła, Project Manager and Site Leader at deepsense.ai. “There is no need to transport a workforce to a distant location and provide heating or  cooling. Even the light in a warehouse is obsolete: automated machines don’t need to see anything, nor do they get cold or faint in the heat. Machine learning models can optimise energy use and other utilities to make the remote location easier to maintain or even semi-autonomous. That reducescosts significantly.”

This solution also allows companies to reduce property costs by locating operations at cheaper regional sites away from the main population centres. “Making a facility controllable from remote locations enables a company to get support from numerous experts who are unwilling to move near the factory, with semi-autonomous facilities, most of the work can be done remotely – from a single office located in a city or even from an expert’s home anywhere in the world,” added Deptuła. “Combining low-cost facilities with support from experts around the world is the perfect combination.”

WObit, a Polish producer of automated guided vehicles – or AGVs – has won awards for its range of products. These robots already operate in warehouses and when combined with smart pickers or co-bots (collaborative robots), the modern factory begins to look more like a ballet as the smooth processes flow seamlessly from one phase to the next. It isn’t just Polish producers who are investing in these systems in this country; some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Bosch, Kuka, ABB, Comarch and Siemens, are all investing in Industry 4.0 solutions in Poland as well.

Siemens has begun implementing its Mindsphere programme, which Łukasz Otta, Digital Transformation Director for Siemens Poland, describes as “a software tool that provides secure data acquisition, processing and storage in the cloud. Acquiring a large amount of information about production processes, machine status, inventory, including raw materials for production, energy costs, availability of personnel and other information opens the way to very specific innovations and improvements in the operation of the company.”

In a 2018 Deloitte report, Dominika Bettman, CFO Siemens Poland, summed up the challenges of implementing Industry 4.0 in the country: “The economy in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs staff that will meet the challenges of its modernisation and digitisation. A contemporary – and even more future – engineer will be characterised by a specific set of skills, combining fields such as mechatronics or IT with the ability to understand all technological processes specific for individual production industries. Therefore, Polish industry needs new staff with interdisciplinary competences. In our opinion, the group that deserves special attention, especially in the context of the need to combine different areas of knowledge, are students, or future engineers.”

Further along the logistics chain, another Polish company, Nova Tracking, has created modern solutions to help freight forwarders, carriers and shippers to optimise their processes and build a market advantage. “We are focusing on the digitalisation of transport and logistics documents as well as the automation of steps in business processes,” said Dr. Marcin Hajdul, CEO of Nova Tracking. “Automation means that our platform generates different types of documents, writes and sends emails, connects to external systems in order to get all the required data. All  of  our users can work together within a NovaTMs ecosystem. Small and medium-sized transport companies using NovaTMs can save up to three and a half hours daily per person.”

The 4IR won’t happen by accident: companies, governments and universities will all have to work together to build an environment and infrastructure where possibilities turn into realities. The time for thinking about this as something for tomorrow has passed; the Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun.

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Written by: Nick Westerby

Nick Westerby is a Warsaw-based journalist who has covered a variety of topics including sports, medical innovation, the construction sector, new technologies, the economy and Polish start-ups. He graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with honours in sociology and psychology before moving into finance. He previously worked in Greece and South Korea before settling in Poland.