The Digital Industrial Revolution (DIR) – aka 4-IR or Industry 4.0 – will profoundly shape our efforts to promote industrial development. The scale, scope and complexity of this new technological revolution will bring experiences unknown to humankind in the form of cyber-physical systems (CPS), where computers, networks and physical processes are integrated. In particular, when compared to the previous industrial revolutions, the DIR is occurring at an exponential pace (IPAP 2018 -2021, the DTI).
What will the nature of automation be in the future? And how well is the South African manufacturing sector prepared to meet these new challenges? The SAIMC (Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control) is actively addressing these and other challenges through its involvement in the adoption and implementation of Industry 4.0 to the benefit of the South African economy.
The SAIMC was established in 1957 as a non-profit organisation to act as a catalyst between industry and education. Today, its mission is to provide guidance with regard to education, training and automation thought leadership that is appropriate to current and future industry requirements. It is also involved in the recognition of automation as the 10th engineering degree, to provide an avenue for students into Industry 4.0 or the IIoT.
The Digital Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 talks about the usage and impact in an industrial environment of the Internet of Things, Data and Services. Decentralised intelligence helps to create object networking and independent process management, with the interaction of the real and virtual worlds representing a crucial new aspect of the manufacturing and production process.
Industry 4.0 represents a paradigm shift from ‘centralised’ to ‘decentralised’ production, made possible by technological advances that constitute a reversal of conventional production process logic. Simply put, this means that industrial production machinery no longer simply ‘processes’ the product, but rather that the product communicates with the machinery to tell it exactly what to do. Industry 4.0 connects embedded production technologies and smart production processes to pave the way to a new technological age that will transform value chains and business models through the concepts of the ‘smart factory’.
The South African perspective
Many business leaders believe that South Africa holds the potential to re-establish a leading role in the global economic environment. Hence the South African Government launched an initiative to step into the digital revolution through its Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP). The DIR will enable a growth policy allowing the country to improve its competitiveness, resulting in an upswing of the economy. However, some serious challenges need to be dealt with to make effective use of this opportunity, namely:
• Infrastructure: a solid Internet and communications network.
• Education and training: a need to educate lecturers and students on how to skill and re-skill new and existing workforces.
• Market structures: understand and adopt the change in different market structures and the interaction between them (primary vs. tertiary).
The South African economy is unbalanced through the scarcity of companies in the SME sector. Big business cannot solve the country’s unemployment problem on its own. In the developed world, for example, the SME sector is responsible for a much higher portion of GDP, therefore providing a healthier economic platform. However, with the right strategic cooperation, South Africa could revitalise its manufacturing industry and SME sector through digitalisation and the application of Industry 4.0 or the IIoT.
As a country, we have the opportunity to become an early adopter on the African continent. We should use it to leapfrog our competitors through unique, locally developed, high-tech products and services. These market changes are happening fast and might be disruptive in some domains. However, they offer the opportunity to revitalise the way we do things. Manufacturers need to adjust their infrastructures and develop new ones, upskill their workers and reorganise their businesses. We need to attract the right digital talent/skills and (re)train and develop the existing workforce to understand and operate the new and smart technologies.
The Digital Industrial Revolution offers a huge opportunity for South African manufacturers to reinvent themselves and become more successful and competitive in local as well as global markets. The SAIMC is an active participant in this process of economic and technological transformation.
Marc van Pelt,
Manager Industry 4.0 Task Team
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