Tooling up for transformation

Industry 4.0 is energising Africa

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Industry 4.0 is widely seen as the gateway to a world of opportunity in a digitally connected world. Known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the term “Industry 4.0” collectively describes the innovative technologies that integrate digital technologies and artificial intelligence in industries globally. This revolutionary digitisation has already taken root in Europe, where German manufacturers, for example, are set to invest an estimated US$150 billion-a-year in the integration of Industry 4.0 frameworks with their existing operations and practices. Now, it is the turn of Africa’s industries, state-owned companies and utilities to benefit from this sweeping trend.

Manufacturing advantage

Industry 4.0 stems from the manufacturing sphere and it is here that the most obvious benefits and applications are to be found. Indeed, Industry 4.0 has become one of the most popular topics at various industry events.

According to a statement released by the Manufacturing Indaba, “The benefits of Industry 4.0 span across several areas such as cost, productivity, profitability and operations that manufacturers are actively seeking to control, streamline, optimise or enhance. The onset of Industry 4.0 and IoT will be followed by a complete digitisation of factories and manufacturing units that, in response to the unique needs of individual customers, will merge elements such as customised product design, manufacturing processes and final delivery to maximise customer satisfaction levels.”

Industry 4.0 offers competitive advantages, which include “overtaking traditional manufacturing methodologies and replacing them with improved material requirements planning (MRP) models and cloud manufacturing execution systems”. Businesses will be able to leverage these capabilities “to increase productivity whilst maintaining peak quality standards and reducing errors, thereby decreasing waste”.

Human resources are also in for a change. Analytics and algorithms will take care of the functioning of machines, while the role of employees will be to monitor the machines’ ongoing performance. A further benefit is improved safety: although there is a limit to the tasks people can perform in dangerous environments, machines have no such limitations, so the number of workplace accidents along with Workman’s Compensation claims will be reduced significantly.

“Similarly, Industry 4.0 and IoT initiatives will empower industrialists to improve on their Manufacturing Process Optimisation, whereby machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, shared data and advanced analytics promote greater cooperation among all stakeholders along the entire value chain. In addition, the manufacturing industry will observe a vast reduction in the time spent accumulating feedback on products and services. With the automated closed-feedback loop being a fundamental element of Industry 4.0, smart systems make more allowance for flawless record-keeping, thereby increasing tracking capabilities, while controlling liabilities, warranty expenditures and recalls,” according to the Manufacturing Indaba’s statement.

Once these changes are integrated into the supply chain, processes and activities will be optimised, making for improved efficiency and innovation into the future, as well as greater revenue and returns on investment.

Commenting on these developments at the Industry 4.0 Workshop held on 6 June at Sustainability Week 2018, Conrad Kassier, a industrial energy efficiency specialist at the United Nations Industry Development Organisation (UNIDO), pointed out that the benefits of Industry 4.0 are even more widespread: “Opportunities exist for Africa to leapfrog through bringing technology education into schools and making SA kids more technically aware. In turn, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Education have the opportunity to address the relevance of South African education in relation to what business and industry actually need.”

Education and training are key to future success, Kassier emphasises: “Skills development in Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges and others can be reconfigured in line with the relevance and legitimacy of the industrial training services. There is a sore need for more skills in robotics, app development and the integration of smart technology with the energy, water and transport systems that exist in South Africa. South Africa and African countries require skilled workers on the factory floor to be problem solvers instead of mere fitters and turners, etc. People must work alongside machines and understand the interpretation of data and information to improve production and business processes.”

Kassier adds that municipal service delivery can be improved through the smart monitoring of waste management, water and electricity. Communications technology is a low-hanging fruit where cities can more accurately interact in real time with citizens about resource management. However, for this to happen, it is necessary to develop insight broadly. “African stakeholders require a deeper understanding of the smart, integrated opportunities in manufacturing, how smart technology can solve many problems about complying with laws and regulations through easier monitoring of production processes and preventing high-cost interventions further down the line,” says Kassier.

It is also critically important that Industry 4.0 should not be seen as a threat.

“Leapfrogging can happen generally through better ICT infrastructure in South Africa, a better communications policy, education, better broadband and adapting working class mentalities to embrace technological advancements in the workplace instead of resisting change, and finding reasons why technology is a threat to humans in a factory. Industry 4.0 brings opportunities for all workers to be more relevant in the workplace by being more informed, more aware and more productive under integrated production and sales value chains. This automatically prepares the worker for heading towards having a coordination or managerial role in the workspace. This translates into personal and professional development, progress and achievements,” he adds.

Energy bonus

Although Industry 4.0 has its roots in manufacturing, it also represents a golden opportunity for the energy sector—provided that sector players embrace technology and innovation.

According to a statement released by the African Energy Indaba, the rapid growth of digitalisation within the African energy sector will boost the demand for innovation, adaptation to new market technologies and the development of new skill sets within companies. The economic upshot: an added value of R4 trillion (US$300 billion) to the total African economy by 2026.

South Africa’s macroeconomic environment means that it is relatively more digitally advanced than its African neighbours, with industry players already demonstrating digital readiness fuelled by an established culture of innovation. However, African countries that are moving up the digital maturity curve still have unique challenges to enable the distribution of energy.

“In Nigeria, for example, many businesses make use of the national grid as a secondary (backup) source of energy. Innovative entrepreneurs are already developing solutions, such as portable solar-powered mobile charging stations to support the digital economy. The digital maturity in Africa is extremely diverse and as a developing continent, it has great socio-economic needs of which many can be solved through digitalisation. However, emphasis should be placed on creating an African lens and implementing disruptive technologies in a different way. Electricity supply networks that use digital communications technology, such as Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) or Power Line Communication (PLC), to analyse, detect and react to local changes, are increasingly being incorporated into the African power utilities’ action plans,” says Kassier.

Ultimately, the widespread adoption of Industry 4.0 principles across Africa could result in an interconnected “super-smart African grid”. This is according to Eskom’s Transmission and Sustainability Group Executive, Thava Govender.

Speaking at the Africa Energy Indaba in Johannesburg, he said rapidly unfolding technological advancements in areas such as energy storage, off-grid technology and control systems, smart-grid technologies, renewables and nuclear energy hold the potential for African countries to achieve the sustainable development goals.

Once again, stakeholders will have to adapt to the new paradigm: “Technological advancements are rapidly changing how we generate, deliver and use energy. Traditional business models are undergoing transformational changes and utilities and energy consumers must adapt and embrace these changes,” he said.

Echoing these sentiments, Webb Meko, Business Development Director, Sub-Saharan Africa for Black & Veatch, writes that utilities are no longer able to count on traditional secure revenue sources. Instead, “they will now require them to open the grid to other entities seeking to make their own profits. At the same time, utilities are under pressure to increase asset reliability, resilience and efficiency, both to meet regulatory expectations and, ultimately, to ensure their survival in this new environment”.

This will require the development of new skills.

“As utilities strive to navigate these different layers to achieve business objectives, they will likely find themselves in a new and different territory. Utilities often have little idea of the required initial analysis and planning, how to value DER, how to integrate and manage them in the network and/or how to manage the number of applications from everyone who wants to put solar on their roof,

“Leveraging the large quantity of data from the smart grid is also problematic. In general, utilities are uncertain how to structure that data, manage it, ensure accuracy and use it effectively. They are unlikely to have data scientists on staff who understand how to evaluate, correlate and analyse data to achieve desired value drivers, whether to determine when a meter needs replacing, predict the impact of DER in a particular region or provide management with strategic intelligence that was previously out of reach.

“In both cases, this opens up opportunities to partner with other companies, which will allow utilities to leverage on the expertise of information technology companies and, subsequently, develop their own in-house technology expertise,” Meko writes.

Accelerating change

Another state-owned company that has embraced Industry 4.0 is the behemoth, Transnet. In an opinion piece extolling the virtues of technology-driven innovation, the CEO, Siyabonga Gama, commented on how South Africa’s transport giant is integrating the change.

“At Transnet, we are also rapidly adapting to the global technological changes we are confronted with. As we are growing ever closer through digital communication platforms and shrinking our physical borders to harness the infinite opportunities of technology, Transnet is currently transitioning from its Market Demand Strategy, characterised by accelerated capital investment, towards the Transnet 4.0 strategy, which is focused on repositioning Transnet and the country’s freight system, for competitiveness within the fast-changing, technology-driven context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Gama writes.

The implications for Transnet’s future growth path are significant. “Although we’ve placed great value on our infrastructure expansion and logistics activities, we now need to acknowledge the exciting prospects sprawled before us in the fast-emerging digital opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“As Transnet, we require resilience, agility and rapid adaptation to transition successfully over the coming decades. On a continent still widely beset by social inequalities, food insecurity and persistent job losses, a transition to a futuristic digital world seems remote.

“This, however, will be exactly the fertile soil from which emerging technologies, entrepreneurial ideas and digital innovations will grow and thrive, leapfrogging the growing pains experienced by developed economies,” he writes.

Gama describes how Transnet has begun the process of integrating future technology throughout every aspect of its operations, including financial transactions and rail and harbour activities.

“Transnet has a critical role to play in furthering South Africa’s strategic and economic objectives and is actively refreshing its brand as it moves into new markets, expands and diversifies its service offering, and redefines its market position,” writes Gama.

“As such, we are experimenting with blockchain technology in our transacting, utilising drones in our rail business, exploiting 3D printing in our R&D and developing smart applications to manage access in our ports.

“As a state-owned company, Transnet continues to leave an indelible mark on the lives of all South Africans. With a geographical footprint that covers our entire country, Transnet is inextricably involved in all aspects of life in South Africa. As such, we will continue to play a pivotal role in the lives of all our fellow South Africans,” he concludes. 

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