What Industry 4.0 Demands of Myanmar

By Danny Fenster 24 May 2019

YANGON—It is of primary importance, Myanmar Minister of Industry U Khin Maung Cho told the more than 100 gathered at the Novotel Yangon Max hotel Friday morning for the Industry 4.0 in Myanmar conference, to create an inclusive digital economy.

Industry 4.0—a term with a fluid definition but that generally refers to commercial and industrial advances in automation and digital connectivity, and their resulting social and economic impacts—will “affect more than just manufacturing,” U Khin Maung Cho said. “We have to develop our country to match with the other countries surrounding Myanmar.”

The event was hosted by the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Myanmar, known also by its German-language acronym AHK Myanmar, and defining the titular term was itself a recurring theme of the conference. It is often described as the next step in a process that began with steam-powered mechanization at the turn of the 19th century and in the 20th progressed through electric-powered assembly lines and, later, computer technology. The conference’s slogan, “leapfrogging across sectors,” hints at the notion that Myanmar is developing at a time that could enable it to “leapfrog” over several of these stages of production directly into the new, digital economy.

“At the end of the day,” AHK Myanmar Delegate Martin Klose said, this fourth phase “should be focused on digitization, connecting production units, and a focus on on-demand production.”

However defined, all expect the impacts to be profound. The world must be ready for “revolutionary changes in production and in our daily lives,” German Ambassador Dorothee Janetzke said in her opening remarks. “Digitization [in Myanmar industry] is still at the beginning,” she said, but Myanmar has “an ambitious population that is ready to embrace new technologies.”

That embrace will require large investments in education—the topic of the second of the conference’s three panels. The first was industry itself, and the third digitalization and e-commerce.

U Zaw Myo Thant, leader of Myanmar-based Sea Lion Co., described in his opening remarks the changes to the country’s education system the new industry will require, highlighting new approaches to how education and training are delivered.

Myanmar must move toward a “holistic and disciplinary focus” and undergo a process of “democratizing learning materials” with online, open course resources, moving from traditional degrees and diplomas to continuous and on-demand learning.

U Zaw Myo Thant also suggested the movement from textbooks and in-class instruction to collaborative, project-based learning supported by industry.

U Nay Zar Aung of the School of Industrial Training and Education (SITE) said his engineering students are eager about and interested in learning about automation systems. Electricity shortages will slow the movement towards industrial automation, he said, but as far as human capital, “I think we can follow that very quickly.”
While there was disagreement about the depth and the duration of job displacement inherent in this new industrial revolution, all panelists agreed it will entail some workforce disruption—or, stated differently, the loss of jobs for some.

The event gathered major private-sector leaders from Germany and Myanmar for an all-day conference of speeches, panel discussions and information sharing.

For all its talk of inclusiveness, panelists and participants were conspicuously predominantly male, a quality one attendee raised at a panel question-and-answer session.

“There is this book of facts about Germany and how diverse it is, and all this talk of inclusivity,” said Philip Klotz, Business Development Manager at Phandeeyar, the Myanmar-based civic-and-social tech hub, referring to a factbook about Germany being distributed by the conference organizers. “I think that’s something that maybe should be thought about when organizing these sorts of things,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The Industry 4.0 in Myanmar conference was the third and final phase of a three-part project AHK Myanmar has run over the past two years in Myanmar. The first was a working group of individuals from the German and Myanmar private sectors which ultimately produced an eponymous white paper—also split into industry, education and digitalization and e-commerce sections—that was released at the conference. The third component was a mentorship program between 12 members of the German business community and 12 Myanmar entrepreneurs.

As much as a business conference on emerging technologies, it was also an attempt to foster cross-border cooperation at a challenging time for such ventures.

“Some countries are trying to get away from free international trade. To Germany and ASEAN, it is extremely important to keep [trade] open,” Janetzke, the German ambassador, said. “We are both regions that are very interested in open markets.”

Sea Lion Co., owned by U Win Zaw Aung, has been working with the German pneumatic and electrical automation supplier FESTO since 2013, Sea Lion Product Leader Ko Win Min Latt told The Irrawaddy.

“Working with a German company has been very straightforward,” Ko Win Min Latt said. “It’s a great partnership. It’s been one of the more straightforward relationships we’ve had.”

Sea Lion is a products and services provider operating in several sectors, including healthcare, biomedicine, education, and a newly-launched distribution division, according to Ko Win Min Latt.

Germany is Myanmar’s largest trading partner in the EU, with more than US$1 billion worth of imports in 2018—$900 million of which were garments and textiles.

“We haven’t been as big of investors, and we regret that,” the ambassador said.

The German delegation, established in Myanmar in 2014, works globally with German chambers of commerce and industry to help German companies establish and expand their businesses in foreign markets. They work closely with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce (UMFCCI).

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