Home Media Corner Media Releases NextGen Industry: Bilaterals III and the role of artificial intelligence – focus topics for the 17th Swissmem Industry Day
Contact Person  Noé Blancpain Noé Blancpain
Head of Communications and Public Affairs
+41 44 384 48 65 +41 44 384 48 65 n.blancpainnoSpam@swissmem.ch

NextGen Industry: Bilaterals III and the role of artificial intelligence – focus topics for the 17th Swissmem Industry Day

More than 1,000 leaders from industry, politics and science accepted the invitation to the Swissmem Industry Day at Kursaal Bern. On this key occasion for the Swiss tech industry, Swissmem President Martin Hirzel called for a return to a pragmatic economic policy in order to address the formation of geopolitical blocs and the trend towards protectionism. Guest speakers included Federal President Viola Amherd, UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti and former EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The opportunities and challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) for industry were the dominant technological theme. On this topic, Swissmem presented a study developed in collaboration with ETH Zurich. AI opens up great potential. However, its application in Swiss industry is only just beginning.

The Swiss technology industry (mechanical and electrical engineering industries and related technology sectors) is experiencing major changes in its business environment. Geopolitical tensions are steadily increasing. And in terms of economic policy, the major powers are drifting towards protectionism. Speaking at the Industry Day, Swissmem President Martin Hirzel emphasised that "this is bad news for Switzerland’s heavily export-oriented tech industry". He stressed that Switzerland needs a return to a pragmatic economic policy and appealed to politicians to strengthen industry’s operating conditions. Where foreign policy is concerned, the keyword for this is "multi-alignment” – i.e. good relations with as many countries as possible. Martin Hirzel cited the free trade agreement with India as a positive example. At the same time, he expressed hopes that the conclusion of similar agreements with Mercosur, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia as well as an improved agreement with China would soon succeed.  

Last but not least, the relationship with Europe must also be clarified: almost 58% of the goods exported by Switzerland's tech industries go to the EU. Swissmem therefore supports the Bilateral Agreements III – but not at all costs: Switzerland’s liberal labour market – one of its key assets as a business location – must be preserved. Swissmem is therefore vehemently opposed to any extortionate trade union demands for collective bargaining agreements being deemed universally binding. 

Use of AI: early days for Switzerland’s tech industry  

On the technological front, the main focus of Industry Day was on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) by industry. Prior to the event, Swissmem conducted a survey among member companies to find out to what extent AI is already permeating the tech industry. In doing so, it was supported by a team from ETH Zurich. "The key finding is that deploying AI can generate real business benefits. There are many practical examples of this. Well over half the companies using AI applications stated that the solutions adopted met or exceeded expectations,” said survey leader Prof. Torbjørn Netland. "AI opens up great potential that can be unleashed along the entire value chain."  

However, the companies that already use AI are still a minority among Swissmem's members. Only one in eight companies had considered using AI in their production processes. In supply chain management, the figure was even below 20 percent of companies. However, companies plan to step up their adoption of AI in these areas several-fold over the next three years. Currently, the most important areas where AI is being applied are product development, predictive maintenance and machine optimisation. Knowledge management also gets repeated mentions, probably due to the rise of generative AI. To sum up: the Swiss tech industry is only just getting started on AI. According to the ETH study, the biggest obstacles are the lack of qualified AI specialists and insufficient access to relevant know-how. SMEs in particular are at risk of falling behind.  

Swissmem and the "Next Industries" association which it manages have tailor-made instruments to promote the tech industry’s AI competencies as well as cooperation between companies. The growing technological complexity calls for an intensive dialogue between companies, research institutes and universities, including universities of applied sciences. It is also vital to upgrade digital skills at the vocational apprenticeship level, both in higher education and among the workforce.  


The state of AI in the Swiss tech industry
Results from a survey by ETH Zurich in cooperation with Swissmem and Next Industries / Zurich, 25 June 2024

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For further information please contact: 

Noé Blancpain, Head of Communications and Public Affairs
Tel. +41 44 384 48 65 / mobile +41 78 748 61 63
E-mail n.blancpainnoSpam@swissmem.ch 

Philippe Cordonier, Head of Swissmem Romandie
Tel. +41 21 613 35 85 / mobile +41 79 644 46 77
E-mail p.cordoniernoSpam@swissmem.ch 



Last update: 25.06.2024