Industrial controls: Swiss are ahead of the game

in Advisory, 11.05.2017

The combination of smart machines and big data could potentially increase productivity and drive enormous economic benefits – changing the face of the economy. Switzerland’s ready to play a key role in building and operating such complex and mission critical systems for companies around the world.

Shaping Switzerland’s digital future

Not too long ago, the ideas of self-driving cars, speech recognition and machine translation were considered a joke. Now, these are a reality. So, what’s next?

Today we’re looking at a new combination of smart machines, big data and robotic process automation that allow machines to share and analyze data and advise each other. The combination of smart machines and big data make up the industrial Internet and could potentially increase productivity and drive enormous economic benefits – changing the face of the economy.

An estimated 300 million-labor hours a year are spent servicing the world’s power plant turbines, aircraft engines, rail locomotives and medical image scanners, at an annual cost of $20 billion[1]. Much of this maintenance is done according to standardized schedules, as a response to break-downs and generally done data-blind. If those machines were equipped with next generation Industrial Control Systems (ICS) sensors and data analysis, huge savings could be made.

As a result, ICS are considered a key driver and enabler for future Industry 4.0 developments. Among other things, they’re used to steer and monitor industrial production processes, power production and distribution, water purification, oil and gas production, transportation systems.

Why Switzerland? Three compelling reasons

The first pillar for success is Switzerland’s neutrality and political stability. Both national traits are a huge asset in ensuring the high level of reliability and trust required to produce and operate mission critical industrial control systems. Security by design will be a key differentiator for maintaining trust in an ever-increasing complexity of connected systems.

The second pillar is Switzerland’s world-class technology infrastructure known for speed and reliability. The ability to securely manage, operate and monitor ‘smart’ devices is crucial to ensure public health and safety. Switzerland boasts the second fastest internet connection in Europe with ever faster speeds and increased broadband giving it the edge. And the country’s security in the electrical grid ensures that the servers running the heart of ICS are always cooled and functioning.

The third compelling reason is its global reputation for innovation. As a top location for R&D and multinationals, Switzerland is recognized as one of the world’s top innovators. It already ranks high as a research hub for AI, computer science, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Early movers using Switzerland as a digital labor hub

CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is one of the largest and most complex industrial control systems ever built and the volume of data generated is growing each year. CERN works with ICT industry partners such as Siemens to assess the merits of new technologies and industrial security. This framework also offers a neutral ground for carrying out advanced R&D with more than one company.

The Swatch Group is also a key player in the manufacture and sale of electronic systems used in ICT. Micro Crystal is recognized worldwide as a top manufacturer of miniature low power crystals and small oscillators. While EM Microelectronic is a leader in supplying electronic circuits for battery-operated and field-powered applications producing several hundreds of millions of circuits annually for more than 150 customers in 35 countries.

What’s stopping Switzerland?

It takes very specialized talent and engineers to run ICS. As ICS are typically cyber-physical systems that connect cyberspace with the real world, malfunctions or cyber-attacks on such systems can have fatal or catastrophic consequences. Therefore, highly specialized and inherently scarce know-how is required to operate ICS in a way that is both secure and resilient to cyber-attacks.

As ICS become increasingly ubiquitous and interconnected, finding and retaining the right talent will become an even greater problem. There’s work to do in making sure Switzerland maintains access to top talent from all over the world. But Switzerland is not alone in facing this challenge and may be able to adapt more quickly to the educational demands of a digital future. It’s possible to foster security by design in the early phases of engineering and science education in Switzerland, specifically for the industrial Internet and Industry 4.0.

The way forward

Switzerland’s strong industrial competency and its ability to innovate provide the basis to build and operate the Industrial Controls Systems of Industry 4.0. Attracting and retaining the world’s top talent to build and operate industrial control systems is essential as Switzerland’s own supply of this talent may not meet future demand. So, the country must remain attractive to multinationals and the forerunners who attract and train such talent.

A key priority for the Swiss government must be building and maintaining a reliable and cyber resilient critical infrastructure and measures to ensure a high standard in both the public and private domain. Switzerland must simply be better prepared for major cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure.

Find out what additional opportunities Switzerland’s digital future has to offer and read KPMG’s recent white paper, “Shaping Switzerland’s digital future – 7 visionary business opportunities”.

[1] Lohr, Steve. “Dataism: Inside the Big Data Revolution”, p.138




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