IT in Manufacturing


How to build an agile, sustainable company in South Africa

September 2023 IT in Manufacturing

The team at ElectroMechanica (EM) believes the first step to sustainability is to preserve the resources at your disposal, and with South Africa’s current economic woes, resource management is more critical than ever. This can be achieved by finding innovative new ways to work smart, not hard. It is up to the private sector to create effective solutions that ensure long-term organisational sustainability. Now is the time to take a ‘think outside the box’ approach to all the resources within your scope.

Resources can be classified into three broad categories, namely people (your workforce), profit (your balance sheet), and planet (your impact on the environment). Commonly known as the triple bottom line, this is currently the global gold standard by which companies should measure the success of their strategies. To achieve true sustainability the aim should be to manage the resources in all three categories equally. If enough organisations apply this approach at company level, we can make a large-scale impact across South African industry. By acting individually at the micro level, collectively we can make an impact on the macro landscape.

SOPs, automation and your triple bottom line

Automation, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI), is currently providing countless opportunities for organisations to improve workflows, enforce more relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs), and more effectively leverage their resources. We need to find new ways of doing more with less. Resource conservation is the key to creating sustainability. Combining automation and SOPs not only improves workflow and operational efficiency, but also helps your business move closer to effective resource management. How? By enhancing all three facets of the triple bottom line.

People

In hazardous environments, automation can enhance safety by assuming high-risk tasks fully and lowering accident and injury rates in tasks that still require human intervention. With access to accurate data insights, employees can quickly make more informed, data-driven decisions.

There are soft skill benefits too. The elimination of repetitive and mundane tasks enables employees to focus on more engaging or meaningful work, leading to increased job satisfaction and fulfillment. In turn, this drives the ability of employees to futureproof themselves through skills development and upskilling. Finally, efficiency and productivity are also enhanced as automation helps accelerate task completion and increase accuracy, reducing workloads and promoting a better work-life balance.

Profit

Automation can impact a company’s balance sheet in a number of ways, none of which involve a large-scale reduction in the workforce, the number one concern often faced by companies looking to introduce automated technology. Firstly, by minimising the likelihood of errors, the costs associated with rectifying mistakes or defects are reduced, while simultaneously ensuring consistent, high-quality products. This improved quality can lead to enhanced customer satisfaction, repeat business, improved brand reputation, and the potential for premium pricing.

Automated systems can also handle larger work volumes without proportionate increases in resources, providing a platform for your business to cater to growing demands, expand your customer base, and seize growth opportunities, all while maintaining or even enhancing profitability. They can also optimise the usage of resources like energy, materials and inventory, further contributing to cost savings. Streamlined productivity, safer working environments and resource conservation create more agile, sustainable companies. The right technology will get you there faster.

Finally, automation systems generate valuable data that can inform strategic decision making, enabling your business to make choices that positively impact its financial performance. These factors allow your organisation to adjust quickly to changing market conditions, customer demands and regulatory changes, ensuring your business stays competitive, is primed to seize opportunities, and maintains financial stability in an increasingly dynamic environment.

Planet

Finally, automation facilitates the incorporation of environmental practices into your operations, such as energy management strategies, renewable energy integration, and sustainable supply chain practices. Its ability to streamline processes and diminish errors also improves resource utilisation, leading to a reduction in material, energy and water waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.

A success story

Bright Alloys, a ferrochrome smelter in Gauteng, experienced a catastrophic event − a furnace burn-through that caused extended downtime and negatively impacted productivity and revenue when an operator missing the rising temperature on the furnace shell; but by working with ElectroMechanica through its network of providers and installers, Bright Alloys was able to automate its operations with VTScada. Originally intended to address the outdated system and lack of standardisation across the plant, the implementation of this solution resulted in several additional benefits, including resource management.

The implementation of VTScada prompted an immediate cultural shift within Bright Alloys. SOPs were created for each furnace, eliminating redundant development efforts and freeing the team to focus on mission-critical operations. Daily emailed reports on the system and operator nodes enabled prompt, more informed decisions. The use of cameras for remote monitoring of electrical components also minimised physical intervention in hazardous areas, enhancing workplace safety.

Bright Alloys experienced a range of operational benefits that had a direct impact on its bottom line. The results of implementing VTScada were:

• Reduced feed rate tolerance to within 1%.

• Increased furnace availability to 97%.

• 24/7 real-time visibility.

• Minimised downtime.

• Enhanced decision making through robust reporting.

One unanticipated benefit of VTScada was the real-time energy consumption data. By acting on the optimisation opportunities highlighted by the system, Bright Alloys reduced natural gas consumption by a third, resulting in a monthly saving of more than R100 000 − a win for both the bottom line and the environment.

Time to take action

Today’s sustainable businesses take action before their competition. If your business has not yet started on a digital transformation journey, you are already behind the curve; but with the long-term benefits of automation systems, you have an opportunity right now to put the wheels in motion to make your organisation a sustainable business of the future.

Are you ready to lead the way to a more sustainable future in South Africa?

Experience the benefits of automating your system in collaboration with ElectroMechanica in order to reshape your operational potential through their cutting-edge VTScada solution.


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