Editor's Choice

A review of the 2021 MESA Africa conference

January 2022 Editor's Choice

I recently attended the MESA Africa conference on 17 and 18 November 2021. There were two options for attending – in person or virtually. As we’re still in a pandemic in South Africa, albeit in lockdown level1, I opted to try the virtual thing. I must say, it was not what I expected, those who attended in person looked to have more fun and better coffee, so I hear. The schedule was jam-packed with speakers and case study presentations from across the manufacturing industry.

PwC and the CSIR won the prize for the most speakers and presenters at this event, which spanned two days. Both were packed with topics that anyone in the manufacturing space just could not miss. I usually enjoy this conference because the information and insights I gain from attending it are invaluable. This is my fifth year attending and it never seems to be a waste of my time. In addition, I benefit from reviewing the conference, so I get to reflect on the highlights and lowlights. One lowlight could be the load-shedding we experienced during the event. Occasional dips in power would force the on-site router to restart, leaving us in virtual attendance guessing when the proceedings would continue. The organising team handled it well, though.

Stand out presentations include the use of digital twin technology by the CSIR to fast-track production of ventilators during a time our country needed it most. Also, Ian Caister’s ‘Serverless IoT deployment service’ seemed a really innovative way to apply this technology in manufacturing. Like Ian, Katlego Malaji is also a young entrepreneur in this industry ruled by large corporations with decades-long experience and money trees that don’t need water to grow. Their inspirational presentations showcased their business challenges, solutions and their drive to succeed. Alberto Pontiggia, MESA Exco member, made a point of supporting young talent where possible. This was a good gesture and I’d advise the two entrepreneurs to take MESA up on that offer.

Many presentations highlighted current problems including Dr Ananth Seshan’s focus on how smart manufacturing can revitalise global economies. Jan Snoeij’s focus on future-proofing your business in these challenging times and the eye-opening presentation by Lullu Krugel from PwC, focusing on the South African Economy. Dilly Naidoo’s content focused on thriving during and post Covid-19 era and here’s why I am bundling these topics and speakers together: The MESA conference had a focus on the now and the future. What is wrong now and what can we do to make the future better. The conference theme was ‘The Art of the Possible’. Meaning we can achieve what we can (possible) rather than what we want (often impossible). As a conference attendee, I was immersed in these presentations as they vividly painted the present and future; there was a sense of hope after each presentation.

Jens Fath from PwC showcased a vital process on how to successfully transform into a smart factory. So many laggards remain sceptical of the 4IR and digitalisation, for many reasons. However, I think we can positively say that those words are not fads or hyped next big things, but in fact, the future of manufacturing.

But the showstoppers for me had to be the following individuals who left me thinking about the conference and their content for days after. I think that’s the point of a conference, a coming together of like-minded people of industry and talking about the issues at hand, these three people left a lasting memory. First, Arthie Moore-Robberts’ hard-hitting, straight-talking demeanour is always a refreshing element to this conference. As an influential woman of the year winner, Arthie’s call to action was for action. We assemble at conferences and we talk because this is what conferences expect of the speakers and attendees. But Arthie called for action and I share that sentiment. Hopefully, next year, we will see more done in the post-Covid economy by the manufacturing industry and OEMs.

The presenter who left me laughing at the seriousness of the situation though was Walker Reynolds. With no pretty slides, he went in very hard and maybe ruffled a few feathers. I really appreciated his frank and confident assessment of the current reality of manufacturing IT and OEMs. Walker probably represents the uneasiness needed in an industry that has been used to doing things a certain way because it worked for 30 years. We have new problems that require unique solutions and new solutions require new thinking. That is a good segue to the last of the three stand out presenters; Dr Shaniel Davrajh from the CSIR presented an interesting view on learning. Technology is growing at a rate faster than our education system can create degrees modelled around it. Shaniel said something that really resonated with me, he alluded to the idea that anyone can be up-skilled in the future. Degrees are necessary, but anyone can be equipped and reskilled with the basic knowledge of the 4IR and digital age technologies required.

I agree with that sentiment. The overarching lesson from this conference: yes, we have problems now and solutions are on the table, but we need collective action! See you all at next year’s MESA conference.

Not all work and no play

Conference gold sponsor Iritron hosted a dinner at the Ghazal Restaurant in Bryanston for the president of MESA International, Dr Ananth Seshan, who visited South Africa as a guest speaker at the MESA Africa annual conference. The dinner cemented the relationship between MESA International, MESA Africa and the SAIMC, with discussions revolvong around the MESA mission and how it relates to South African industry, specifically in relation to SMME markets.

Lance Turner

Lance Turner is an MES/IIT/OT specialist employed at Sasol’s Secunda plant. He has an honours degree in Information Systems and an Adv. Diploma in Industrial Data Communications, Networks and IT. A certified MESA MES/MOM student, his passion is amalgamating general IT across the manufacturing spectrum. Lance’s vision is for a converged IT and manufacturing discipline that will become the reality of Industry 4.0. His team motto is MES services that are always available, always stable, and always dependable.

For more information contact Lance Turner, lancegta007@gmail.com, www.lanceturner.co.za


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