From the editor's desk: Digital transformation or the way of the dinosaur?

September 2020 News

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) recently had its fair share of exposure in South African industry circles. First, the German & EU Chamber’s Working Group Industry 4.0 kicked off a series of online events around the successful adoption of 4 IR in South Africa. And shortly thereafter, the SAIMC hosted a webinar on the subject of preparing South African business for the 4IR.

Three key points I picked up on during the presentations were upskilling of the local workforce, infrastructure development (in particular 5G) and the importance of aligning technology to business benefits that will make local manufacturing more competitive. As Oratile Sematle pointed out during the SAIMC webinar, companies are being forced to change because customers now demand levels of detail in supply chain information that only the data-centric technologies of the 4IR can provide.

In essence, the problems that face modern manufacturing companies have become more complex because today’s consumers demand variety of choice that far exceeds anything industry experienced in the past. Staying ahead in such an environment requires solving increasingly complex supply chain and production line problems, each involving a vast number of parameters which, unfortunately, do not behave according to convenient linear relationships. New technology is therefore required that can simulate the multitude of possibilities and then iterate down to the most effective choice for any given set of circumstances.

At the back end are the big data engines of the modern smart factory, which feed the artificial intelligence algorithms that crunch out the simulations. At the front are the workers, connected to their operational environment through a host of augmented and virtual reality devices updated in real-time with whatever information they require, be this maintenance or production related.

Therefore, as important as it is for South Africa to develop an efficient 4IR-enabling framework, as addressed by the EU Chamber and the SAIMC, amongst others, it is equally important that individual companies take on responsibility for their own unique 4IR implementation plans.

To help them, consultancy firm PwC has formalised its ‘Eight Commandments’ for digitising the shop floor workforce. The commandments stress the earlier point that new technology should only be deployed once the associated business benefits are properly defined and understood. Once it is determined that ubiquitous access to real-time decision support is the most effective way to solve the problems under consideration, then it is time to consider the technologies of the 4IR and the PwC deployment guidelines.

The writing is on the wall, South Africa must commit to a 4IR implementation strategy or jeopardise its global competitiveness. However, on its own, this is not enough to transform an ailing local manufacturer into a top industry performer. Individually, companies have to get to grips with the complexities of competitive production and consider how to leverage an advantage for themselves through intelligent use of 21st century digital technology – or risk becoming extinct.

Interested readers can find detailed reports on the EU Chamber and SAIMC webinars in ‘German & EU Chamber hosts inaugural Working Group Industry 4.0 online session’ and ‘Preparing South African business for the 4IR’, while the full PwC article can be viewed in ‘The Eight Commandments to digitising your shop floor workforce’.

Steven Meyer

Editor: SA Instrumentation & Control


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