The Automation in Industry and Economy Conference was held for the thirteenth consecutive year this year. The central theme of the AIG’23 conference was the factories of the future and the green transition to society 5.0. This is a logical continuation of the theme from the AIG’21 conference, where we talked about the digitalization of factories and the possibilities of using artificial intelligence in industry. Smart factories supported by artificial intelligence are getting closer to realization, and this requires new knowledge and appropriately educated engineers. Society 5.0 is a new vision of society based on advanced technologies, emphasizing the importance of sustainable development and social responsibility. It focuses on how technology and digitalization can help solve social challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality, and other similar problems. Industrial automation can contribute significantly to the green transition, namely in terms of energy efficiency, reduction and recycling of harmful waste, reducing the carbon footprint, using renewable energy sources, and smart and efficient resource management. In addition, industrial automation can also help create new jobs in the green industry.
The opening of the conference was honored by the Rector of the University of Maribor, Prof. Dr. Zdravko Kačič, the State Secretary at the Ministry of Digital Transformation, Dr. Aida Kamišalić Latifić, the Vice Dean for Cooperation with Industry, International Relations and Pedagogical Study Programs at UM FNM, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Robert Repnik, and the Vice Dean for International Cooperation and Development of Quality at UM FERI, Prof. Dr. Marjan Mernik. They all agreed that this year’s theme of the conference is highly relevant. They emphasized the importance of automation in industry and economy and its role in a faster transition to society 5.0.
We attempted to explain the state of the factories of the future and the green transition through four invited lectures and a panel discussion on the first day of the conference. Topics such as digital transformation of production, adaptation to the electricity market, lifelong learning, and examples of active cooperation between industry and institutes were followed by lectures in the Industrial Forum, which also related to the factory of the future.
A view of the green transition through the development of products and services of the Slovenian economy is one of the important triangulators of the potential Slovenian development strategy in the field of new green technologies, including hydrogen. At the roundtable, Factories of the Future and Green Transition, moderated by Dr. Zoran Marinšek, Head of the Competence Center for Modern Leadership Technologies, speakers from participating ministries and government agencies, representatives of the economy, and representatives of cross-cutting SRIPs discussed this topic. The participants included Matevž Frangež, State Secretary at the Ministry of Economy, Tourism, and Sport, Dr. Peter Wostner from the Office of the Republic of Slovenia for Macroeconomic Analysis and Development (UMAR), Dr. Aleksandra Lobnik, co-founder of IOS d.o.o., Mag. Matjaž Čemažar, Director of Domel d.d., and Stojan Kokošar, CEO of Kolektor SISTEH d.o.o.
The discussion raised some concerns about the potential environmental impact of the factories of the future and the role of the government in promoting green technologies. The speakers also discussed the importance of developing new green technologies and promoting sustainable development to achieve a successful transition to society 5.0. The discussion unveiled some concerns regarding the coordination of individual ministries and the lack of a common national strategy to support and recognize breakthrough technologies that will be crucial for a green transition towards a better and more sustainable modern society. In order to develop technologically advanced offerings from the Slovenian industry, it will be important for them to be included in development investments within the Slovenian energy-climate plan on one hand, and on the other hand, for a refreshed research and innovation strategy, the Smart Specialization Strategy (S5), to be directed and adequately supported towards the development of new digital green technologies throughout the entire technological development cycle, by eliminating technology gaps. The way in which electric energy is obtained and the energy efficiency of products offered on the market both significantly affect the reduction of carbon footprint. The green factory of the future means a carbon-neutral factory. In order to achieve the 1.5°C goal, industrial emissions should be reduced by 45% by 2030. However, there is a significant gap between ambitions and the realization of plans. The state can play an important role in this and help companies develop competitive products for the global market. The most important factors in this regard are sources of knowledge and financial incentives.
After the roundtable discussion, there was a festive award ceremony for the best graduate theses in 2022. The Technology Process Management Network introduced these awards and has been presenting them for the past 13 years.
Although the conference was intended for the exchange of experiences and presentation of applied solutions, as well as networking between users, providers, and researchers, we also thought about students who are preparing to take on the responsibility and care for the profession. For this purpose, we organized a student section where electrical engineering students from FE Ljubljana and FERI Maribor presented their student articles. Students were also invited to a job fair where they learned about their employment opportunities and what skills potential employers expect from them. At the conference dinner, we announced the winners of the student competition and awarded practical prizes to the top four.
The second day of the conference was also very productive. In two consecutive sections, we followed presentations of articles from research institutions and industry. Throughout both conference days, there was an exhibition of Slovenian companies outside the conference hall, who were also loyal sponsors without whom the conference would not have been possible.
On the first day of the conference, there were 130 participants, 46 of whom were from state institutions and 84 from the private sector. Throughout the conference, a total of 34 contributions were presented, 12 from companies, 12 from institutions, and 10 from students, including 3 from the University of Maribor’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and 7 from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering. On the second day of the conference, more than 40 participants were present. The conference was sponsored by 17 organizations, including 12 Slovenian companies and 5 media sponsors.