Pakistan plans to increase the share of industrial sector in its gross domestic product (GDP) to 30% by 2030.
It is a key target of the country’s Vision 2030. Currently, the industry’s share in GDP is 20%. Taking it to 30% should not be a problem if the government and private sector join hands to promote the engineering industry – the mother of all industries.
Sadly though, the engineering industry remains neglected. This is also reflected in exports of engineering goods, which fetched $207 million in FY18 but fell below this mark in FY19 and FY20. This is one indicator that Pakistan has not made any serious efforts to promote the industry.
Another indicator is imports. The country spends about $9 billion a year on imports of machinery. Had the domestic engineering base been strong, machinery imports would not have been that high – one-fifth of total imports. An almost negligible weight of the engineering sub-sector in large-scale manufacturing (LSM) also proves that engineering remains neglected. Its weight in LSM is 0.4%.
To push the industry’s share in GDP to 30% in the next 10 years, the share of engineering sub-sector in LSM must rise accordingly.
Pakistan will have to identify particular industries for which new machinery is required. It will have to facilitate the establishment of specific engineering units. And, it will also have to promote domestic manufacturing of parts and accessories of most categories of imported machinery.
All this requires close coordination among the federal and provincial governments, Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC) and representative bodies of the private sector like the Pakistan Business Council and the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Promoting the engineering industry effectively means promoting knowledge and foresight about industrial engineering. In most of Pakistan’s engineering universities, the subject of industrial engineering is not taught to stimulate students’ minds to find solutions to challenges. It is not too late to start doing that.
It is important to encourage coordination between domestic and foreign universities. Why not, for example, the world-famous MIT partners with NED University and offers some learning programmes in industrial and environmental engineering?
In Pakistan, a majority of the industries continue to work with decades-old machinery. We hear about balancing, modernisation and replacement (BMR) projects running only in top-of-the-line export-oriented industries.
Why second and third-tier industries with lesser exposure to export markets cannot be encouraged for BMR?
One impediment is that BMR is expensive. Modernisation has become synonymous with adoption of imported machinery and tools, however, the development of domestic engineering industry can solve this problem.
The scope of engineering industry, and the range of engineering products, is wide and diverse. But for decades nothing has been done to encourage all sub-sectors of engineering and all categories of engineering products.
In 2017, PEC rolled out policy guidelines for the registration, renewal and upgrade of licences of constructors/ licensed operators. This would help in compliance with best practices in the construction industry that is so closely inter-linked with engineering.
But similar and updated policy guidelines must be designed for professional engineers in other fields to improve the quality of engineering processes and products. Environmental engineering is relatively new in our country. The federal and provincial governments, PEC and the private sector must work jointly to promote it and reach out to developed countries for seeking required technical assistance.
Environmental engineering aims to reduce the impact of industrial or public sector infrastructure projects on the physical and socio-economic environment.
Industrial solution-providing companies (ISPs) are also relatively new. They often act as a bridge between mainstream industries and environmental authorities.
Whereas these companies generally help in environmental engineering, their role is broader. They also help mainstream industries achieve higher levels of operational efficiency.
To do this, they employ young, ambitious engineers and ask them, for example, to design for fertiliser or cement plants such processes that can help them make industrial waste reusable.
According to PEC, more than 18,000 engineers were employed across Pakistan as of end-June 2019. Many of them must have innovative minds and they can help authorities in diverse ways in expanding the domestic base of engineering industry.
Sadly, there is no system in place to elicit innovative ideas of professional engineers.
Of late, the Ministry of Science and Technology has tasked the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to evaluate the scope of bio-engineering. But the ministry would do better if it can engage PEC as well.
PEC, on its part, has started online registration of engineers with ideas of PMVs (patch-based multi-view stereo software) and innovative products. That is a welcome move.
The writer is an electronics engineer and pursuing master’s degree
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2020.
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