Regulation needed as manufacturing space is digitised: DTI

The Director General of the Department of Trade and Industry, Lionel October, speaking at the 2018 Manufacturing Indaba.
The Director General of the Department of Trade and Industry, Lionel October, speaking at the 2018 Manufacturing Indaba.

SA's manufacturing industry urgently needs to adopt a viable regulatory framework to maximise the opportunities and withstand the challenges that will be presented by the fourth industrial revolution.

This is word from Deputy General of the Department of Trade and Industry Lionel October, who was speaking at the 2018 Manufacturing Indaba held in Sandton, Johannesburg yesterday.

According to October, technologies such as 3D printing; advanced robotics and cognitive automation; artificial intelligence and IOT can propel the sector to greater heights.

"It is important to approach the [digital transformation] phenomenon from two vantage points: the one a technological the other a policy and regulatory framework.

"The European Union, for example, has moved with speed to ensure that issues of data security and concentration and competition issues are dealt with. Given the importance of this issue, the DTI has assembled a task team which is developing a policy and regulatory framework for digital transformation.

"When this work has been completed, the department will put in place a process to ensure that SA's policy and regulatory framework is fit for purpose to maximise the opportunities and withstand the challenges and threats that will be presented by the fourth industrial revolution. This will include engagement with the private sector and labour," he said.

Some industries, such as the automotive industry, have already started implementing some of the technologies, he added.

"Admittedly, the automotive industry is at the forefront of innovation, but it is an example of an industry that planned for the future rather than the 'here and now'. For instance, there are already robotics in the BMW plant in Pretoria and, similarly, at the Mercedes Benz plant in East London. These plants have proven to be very productive, showing that, as an industry, we do have the capability to successfully implement the technologies in the correct environment."

Manufacturing currently contributes a little over 15% of the country's GDP and is dwarfed by the finance, real estate and business services sectors.

Reskilling the labour

Schalk Laubscher, production manager at Etion Create (previously Parsec), added that digitising the manufacturing space in SA will not only improve the country's economy, but will also allow it to compete more effectively with other countries.

"Manufacturing has the ability to reduce unemployment and improve the economy. Through technology, the workplace will be enhanced, most notably by eradicating repetitive tasks and allowing people time to focus on further creativity and innovation," he said.

"The human element will never be replaced by machines. This fear is rooted in ignorance and this is one of the reasons conversations concerning technology are critical."

Dylan Jessup, vice chair for Gauteng National Association of Automotive Component and

Allied Manufacturers (Naacam), suggested that having digital learning hubs is something companies could look into as means of reskilling labourers.

"In the digital economy, work will no longer be restricted to one employer, job or team. People will need to constantly learn new skills remain relevant. Implementing activities linked to digital transformation needs has seen some Naacam firms increase their spend in this space in response to the various changes."

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