We had a nice chat with Triin Ploompuu (Member of the Board at the Federation of Estonian Engineering Industry)
about Estonian engineering industry plans, strengths and weaknesses!
Triin Ploompuu, Member of the Board at the Federation
of Estonian Engineering Industry:
“We can’t see it ourselves, but digitalisation in Estonian industry is actually fast!“
Engineering industry is considered to be the most important health indicator of a country, since this is the sector that produces articles for all other sectors.
We asked Triin Ploompuu, a Member of the Board at the Federation of Estonian Engineering Industry, about the state of affairs in the Estonian engineering industry following the coronavirus-induced emergency situation, as well as the dangers and opportunities regarding exiting the crisis.
What is the essence of the Estonian engineering industry? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
The history of Estonian engineering industry dates back almost 150 years. Today, there are around 7,000 industrial enterprises in Estonia, of which the largest portion, around 2,200 enterprises, is made up of engineering and metalworking establishments. The specific fields vary from instrument engineering to large details and machinery. Our foreign partners and clients highly value the work ethic of our production companies. We are great to do business with and we deliver on time. We always aspire to offer the best possible quality and we price fairly. In that sense, Estonia is a strong industrial country. Our main problem though is the smallness of our market. Competition with the rest of the world is significant. Especially now, post-crisis, when many companies from our competitor countries have started to aggressively focus on sales to survive. In order for us to sell ourselves better, we need to start using all kinds of solutions to speed up production and do it more economically than ever, but also to measure and analyse the production. One of the most important keywords here is digitalisation.
In your opinion, how open are our industry leaders to digitalisation?
When we first started talking about the “Industry 4.0” way of thinking ten years ago, of which digitalisation forms one section, people were not that eager to take it on. Today, it is clear that digitalisation is being focused on more and more. Digitalisation is an extremely time-consuming process and is strongly related to the strategic planning of the whole enterprise. This again is quite complicated in small and medium-sized companies, which unfortunately make up most of the Estonian engineering industry and our economy in general. I have often come across companies that are too busy with everyday operations, whether there are too many orders or too few staff, which makes it almost impossible for anyone in the office to focus solely on strategic issues. On the other hand, compared to other countries, such as Germany and France for example, we are in a much better position when it comes to digitalisation. We are experienced in using digital platforms, mainly thanks to our public sector, and that makes it easier to introduce similar innovative solutions to the industrial sector as well. I must admit that we Estonians are quite impatient and expect results way too early. According to others though, we do grow extremely fast. We just don’t see it from our perspective.
How can digitalisation support our industrial enterprises, especially in the post-crisis world?
Since most of the companies in the engineering sector had valid long-term contracts during the emergency situation, they continued their everyday work pretty much as usual. There are quite a few enterprises though who are now running out of contracts. Some will experience a setback in July, some in the autumn and some at the beginning of next year. Thus, the main priority of the Estonian industry today is to be present in the export market, to maintain their client base and to find new ones. I am sure that those companies whose leaders are more accepting of new ideas and wish to try out new solutions for themselves will be the winners in this situation. It is often said that if you don’t digitalise, you will be digitalised in the end, without the chance to control the process. It often happens that the need to digitalise arises from a client’s wish or requirement. At the same time, I believe that digitalisation should be a part of the company’s strategy and where certain solutions are found: should we measure working hours, machinery and energy consumption or should we aim at reducing fixed costs?
What can the Federation of Estonian Engineering Industry do for our engineering industry today?
When it comes to digitalisation and introducing new solutions, people in the industry tend to trust the experience of fellow industrial enterprises the most. User experience is what helps convince others about whether a solution is useful or not. The federation’s objective is to present success stories, to share experiences and to discuss important topics in a professional network. Several industrial enterprises are collaborating with IT companies to develop their own products that meet the exact needs of the enterprise. Many IT companies have also expressed their wish to join the federation. GlobalReader, a company producing real-time factory trackers, was the first one. Our interest is to create synergy between industrial and IT companies and demonstrate solutions that everyone could benefit from.
What could we learn from the crisis and where do we go from here?
I believe that although the coronavirus crisis and the emergency situation it induced were hard on everyone, it was also a valuable lesson that forced us to think about the future and how to organise our work differently when necessary. But it also made us ask ourselves how to increase efficiency and profit even during emergency situations. Digitalisation is without doubt one of the keywords in this matter. There were some smart business leaders who made investments prior to the crisis but decided not to withdraw from them during the emergency situation. Instead, they used this downtime to introduce new devices and to make more investments. These companies are definitely in a privileged position now that markets have actively opened up again.