4IR key to a competitive manufacturing sector
By Amritesh Anand, Practice Lead for Unified Communication at In2IT Technologies
Manufacturing is the fourth-largest industry in South Africa, contributing 14% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to Stats SA. With the rise of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), however, manufacturing needs to focus on creating and implementing IT-based solutions if it is to remain competitive on a global scale. A robust IT baseline is essential to supporting next-generation solutions, which in turn is vital for innovation, improved efficiency, greater cost-effectiveness and maximum growth.
New technology, new possibilities
Technology developments like high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IOT), big data analytics and the cloud are the driving factors behind 4IR. These technologies have brought about a rapid change in the way we work and the manufacturing sector can benefit significantly, particularly from AI applications like robotics and industrial IOT, which will improve efficiency through automation of repetitive or hazardous tasks, driving down costs and delivering a host of other benefits.
Blockchain technology also offers significant opportunity for manufacturing to improve operational efficiency, gain deeper insight into supply chains and asset tracking, quality assurance and regulatory compliances. Blockchain could potentially enable manufacturers to reinvent how they design, plan, produce and scale their goods, through the centralised monitoring, maintenance of manufacturing infrastructure and the worldwide adoption of cloud services.
More efficient, more profitable
In manufacturing, efficiency equals profitability and 4IR technologies help manufacturers to maximise revenue growth by reducing operational expense and increasing asset efficiency. Through enhanced operational intelligence such as real-time performance management data and reporting, as well as reduced manufacturing costs, increased flexibility and increased agility, 4IR has the potential to revolutionise manufacturing. Industrial IOT connected digital assets or devices deliver actionable insights to increase productivity and quality, and even prevent safety and compliance issues, by proactively monitoring and alerting throughout the manufacturing process.
4IR delivers competitive advantage in five key areas: increased efficiency, predictive and proactive maintenance ability, reduced costs, improved safety and reduced margin of error. The reality, however, is that technology evolution is driving the way of work of the future and the South African manufacturing sector needs to embrace this change or risk falling behind and becoming less competitive in a global market.
Addressing the foundation
Implementing next-generation technology requires a solid technology baseline, which is one area where the South African manufacturing sector lags. In addition, there is a skills shortage in the country, and the world in general, which is a significant barrier in the roll-out of 4IR technologies.
We need to address elements like basic infrastructure, including fibre, 4G/5G network, system development skills, local ICT support as well as cyber governance and regulatory frameworks. Without this foundation, we cannot adopt next-generation solutions to improve and enhance our manufacturing sector, and we cannot risk falling behind in this latest of industrial revolutions.
4IR has great potential for country, organisational and individual growth and we must embrace this across manufacturing and other sectors to remain competitive on a global scale.