Industry 4.0 to create more smart factories

Read time 3min 40sec

The application of disruptive technologies, such as the industrial Internet of things (IIOT) advanced robotics, digital twinning and blockchain, in the manufacturing sector, holds promise in creating the future smart factory.

This is according to a report by data analytics company GlobalData, which notes the use of advanced technologies, data exchange techniques and flexible automation will play a vital role in addressing much inefficiency in the traditional manufacturing sector.

In the advent of Industry 4.0, the global manufacturing sector is expected to see enhanced human-machine interaction, driving interconnectivity, information transparency and autonomous decision-making.

More factories across the globe will consist of automated and self-monitoring machines, which communicate with humans and materials, sparing workers for other productive tasks and ultimately optimising the design and production processes for elevated operational efficiency, adds the report.

Kiran Raj, disruptive tech analyst at GlobalData, explains: "Industry 4.0 is increasingly gaining importance in manufacturing owing to its capability in marrying operational technology with information technology to build a cyber-physical production system that can deliver higher-quality products at lower costs."

GlobalData's Disruptor Tech Database reveals that technologies considered crucial in transforming industrial manufacturing are: big data and analytics, IIOT, cloud computing, additive manufacturing (3D printing), augmented reality, advanced robotics, digital twinning, simulation, AI and blockchain.

Streamlining local processes

In SA, the manufacturing industry contributes 13% of the annual GDP. KPMG recently reported that two out of three manufacturing CEOs are anxious about their ability to keep pace with technology.

Kevin Jackson, VP of sales at integrated software solutions firm KBMax, says while automation is nothing new to the local manufacturing industry, technologies such as digital twinning, AI for robotics and planning, and blockchain will revolutionise the sector.

"New advancements in the sector will enable companies to offer customers more opportunities for personalisation and connected experiences. Digital twinning enables manufacturers to create virtual product prototypes and maintain virtual representations of these products.

"Automation and streamlining processes will affect workloads by freeing up time for manufacturers to focus on customer relationships and innovation. Specifically, engineering departments will no longer need to spend the majority of their time creating sales drawings. With new technology, customers can only configure what's possible to manufacture, saving time and effort for sales, engineering and manufacturing," explains Jackson.

Other technologies, such as visual configure-price-quote solutions aimed at configuring products and prices, are expected to gain a lot of traction locally, he adds.

According to Epicor Software, implementing blockchain technology can revolutionise the supply chain in manufacturing, by delivering the transparency, scalability and enhanced security that makes it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the Internet.

Advance business analytics will provide the visibility to make immediate and impactful decisions that drive bottom-line results, adds the company.

Hesham El Komy, regional VP for Epicor Software in the Middle East, Africa and India, says beneath the layers, however, there are critical challenges for local manufacturers, such as data management, legacy issues and upskilling employees.

"On a global stage, SA is still considered a technological novice when it comes to implementing modern technological tools in the manufacturing sector. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers' Digital Champions case study, none of the South African manufacturing companies were considered to be digital champions."

"One of the first challenges facing local manufacturers is the concept of letting go of legacy systems that have become entrenched in the company's physiological and operational approach from production line to customer," explains Komy.

The second challenge, he continues, comes in from the existing infrastructure both from an IT and corporate perspective and the company's ability to upskill employees if needed - issues which are often considered financial risks.

"Until local manufacturers update their IT infrastructure to handle the complexities of implementing advanced solutions, the uptake of some technologies will still be quite behind international markets," concludes Komy.

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