MEX / Interview “4.0 is not a technology, it’s an event.” Interview with Bob Williamson

Editor: Steffen Donath

During the Moulding Expo event in Ljubljana, I had the opportunity to speak with Bob Williamson, president of ISTMA World. I discussed the nature of ISTMA, future projects and the impact of Industry 4.0 on the industry, its associations, and thus, ISTMA.

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At the press conference, Bob Williamson spoke about the current situation and Industry 4.0.
At the press conference, Bob Williamson spoke about the current situation and Industry 4.0.
(Source: Messe Stuttgart)

During the speed-interview portion of the Moulding Expo show, I had the pleasure to speak with Bob Williamson about the projects of ISTMA, the ideas behind them and the underlying philosophy.

Imagine a scenario in which ISTMA would not have existed. An alternate timeline if you will. How would you pitch the idea of ISTMA to someone as something that needs to exist?

Let me start off by saying, ISTMA is to the member associations what they make of it. You have to use ISTMA to really obtain value from it. That’s the idea.

Once you actually recognise that, the rewards for an association member are immeasurable because it literally puts them in a position where they have global contacts available to them should they need them.

The ongoing exchange of ideas and different opinions is just immense.

So it is something that is heavily reliant on the network built up?

Yes, it’s a lot of things, but fundamentally it is a networking association. That’s the principle value. You have to work with the network to really derive value from it. What we are of course trying to do is to build projects on top of this network basis, such as our global standardisation of industry qualifications. We endorse these projects as well as the creation of other forums. Our statutes allow members to group themselves for geographical or political reasons. And those groupings can be transient or permanent depending on the purpose.

For instance, ISTMA Europe was created because the Europe-based members of ISTMA have a common interest in the EU. So when they come together, they can negotiate with the EU to obtain opportunities through the EU to the benefit of the industry in Europe. Likewise, we have created ISTMA Brics so those members of ISTMA who are also members of Brics can come together and specifically focus on the needs of their industry and then work under the Brics umbrella.

For example, Brics’s primary purpose is to help Brics members to develop their infrastructure. It may be interesting to note that they regard the tooling industry as a critical part of the infrastructure, being the building block for industrial development. Simply put, if you haven’t got a strong and vibrant tooling industry, you cannot establish a manufacturing industry.

Would you say that there are also downsides to being such a vast and interconnected network because any political impact in one country might be amplified by these connections?

I think the opposite is probably true. The industry works together with or without the involvement of politicians. When I am speaking of political reasons, I am talking about political groupings and most certainly not following any political ideology. ISTMA as an organisation is apolitical.

And when you are pushing certain initiatives, for instance, you mentioned the project of standardised industry qualifications, do you fear that some countries will get left behind, since there will always be frontrunners and people who are lagging behind?

The standardisation of qualifications is all about defining a standard and then measuring each individual country’s own qualification systems against that system. It is generally a foregone conclusion that most of them will comply. If you are a toolmaker in Australia and your qualifications are cross-referenced against an international standard and you apply for a job in Portugal, your Portuguese employer will know exactly what he can expect from you.

What’s different in what we are doing, though, is that we are embracing the new technologies, which will become more prevalent in 4.0 or, as I like to call it, 4 IR (4th industrial revolution).

Speaking of 4.0, what are some of the biggest challenges of Industry 4.0 for you as an association? Information and providing people with it is always important but is there not an underlying conflict since some people would rather stick with “established” forms of production, for instance, those who simply do not want to introduce fully automated manufacturing and smart factories? Would you rather try to push them to go with the flow or carve an extra space in ISTMA for them?

I don’t think there is an opportunity for anyone to carve their own space out and maintain the status quo. 4.0 is going to be disruptive to some companies if they allow it to be disruptive. It’s more a case of actually embracing it and looking for opportunities that are going to appear in consequence of the emergence of these new technologies. 4.0 is not a technology, it’s an event, it’s a period. And it is going to happen with or without individual manufacturers. One of the best examples of disruptive technologies is actually Uber. If you look at some countries’ reaction to it, Germany, for instance, does not allow Uber, since they are trying to protect the traditional taxi industry. Is it going to work? And is it to the benefit of the public?

That is sometimes a big issue, isn’t it? Sometimes, companies would like to expand and embrace new methods but are held back by the regulations of their own country. Is this something where you see ISTMA as an association taking a stand for these companies?

I don’t really see that as the prime role of ISTMA but rather the member associations. ISTMA’s main function is to create awareness of what is necessary and encourage associations to inform their member countries and companies of what 4.0 is really about and explain that because there is a lot of misunderstanding.

I want to thank Bob Williamson for taking the time to answer my questions