The region is on track to reap the efficiencies of industrial digitalization and transformation; but what about the concomitant challenges? 

Previous industrial revolutions introduced a variety of innovative technologies that vastly improved our way of life. Today, it is clear that we are now fully entrenched in the fast-paced technological revolution called the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).  

With each technological transition, mankind has had to not only embrace the opportunities created, but also to contend with the challenges that came along with the benefits. Industry 4.0 is no different from the rest. How well we deal with the complications arising from this process will determine how far we will progress technologically as a society.

What Industry 4.0 can do for Southeast Asia

A quick glance at Southeast Asia reveals that the region serves as a home to a combination of developed, developing, and still emerging economies with different manufacturing landscapes. Back in 2014, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand were among the leading manufacturers, with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia still in their emergent phases. However, the latest statistics show that manufacturing in Southeast Asia is gaining momentum, with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia registering the strongest manufacturing growth as compared to the former leaders back in 2014. 

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the region is primed for a golden age of Industry 4.0 as 60% of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) total growth since 1990 has been attributed to productivity gains from sectors such as manufacturing, retail, telecommunications, and transportation. A recent McKinsey report paints a similar picture and ASEAN can potentially capture productivity gains worth S$294 billion and S$853 billion with Industry 4.0 technologies, becoming the fourth largest economy in the world by 2025.

Opportunities or challenges? 

What does Industry 4.0 entail? In essence, Industry 4.0 is the trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies that include cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.  Efficiency and productivity gains are now the gospel for all Industry 4.0 evangelists, underpinned by the foundations of digital connectivity.  

For Industry 4.0 to successfully take off in Southeast Asia, well-functioning Industry Control Systems (ICS) are a prerequisite. These are different types of control systems and associated instruments, which includes devices, systems, networks, and controls used to operate and automate industrial processes. Together, they make up the IT infrastructure that support manufacturing, transportation, energy, and water treatment industries.  

 As mentioned previously, implementing an Industry 4.0 production environment results in a higher reliance on wireless and automated systems built on digital connectivity, which in turn creates more efficient processes and communications. However, this also increases the vulnerability of ICS to potential cyberattacks, and there is a need for us to pay more attention to the way we implement our ICS with Industry 4.0 technologies from the standpoint of cybersecurity.

Unfortunately, cybercriminals have been quick to exploit the gaps in ICS cybersecurity, with many of them seeing ICS as a gateway to undermine the critical infrastructure of a country. Malicious cyber activities on ICS computers are dangerous as they could potentially cause material losses and production downtime in the operation of industrial facilities. For example, the cyberattack on HOYA’s (a Japanese optics manufacturer) key factory in Thailand earlier this year is a case in point. About 100 of the company’s computers were infected with malware designed to steal user credentials, and this resulted in the factory’s industrial output falling to about 40% of its normal level.