In South Africa, the aerospace and defence industries have a responsibility to provide technological leadership for the rest of the economy. This is because they are the leading sectors for the development, introduction and use of innovations and new technologies, argues Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV) CEO Lance Schultz.
“We are not going through a ‘stepped development’ of technology,” he highlights. “We’re going through disruptive advances. Especially important is the Industrial Revolution 4.0. We need to have foresight to influence the technological developments of tomorrow, which are occurring at a very rapid pace. These include additive manufacturing (three-dimensional printing), associated titanium processing and production developments, composites production and applications, and other specialised manufacturing technologies.
“What is very evident is that there are significant complementarities between all the advanced manufacturing sectors in South Africa: aviation, defence, nuclear, space and automotive,” he stresses. “Achieving symbiosis between these sectors will provide a significant challenge but also opportunities for both established and new participants in these markets.
The CAV forms part of the national ecosystem of technological innovation. It is incumbent upon organisations like the CAV to provide sound technological leadership,” he affirms. This leadership has to be both internal – ensuring its own staff have the skills they require to provide technological leadership – and external, having the ability to affect the technological environment and help develop industry.
Within the country’s technology innovation ecosystem, the CAV will provide enabling infrastructure, such as specialised facilities and support. These will allow South African companies to develop competitive advantages. There are areas of opportunity in the incubation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of robust programmes to develop scarce and critical skills.
“The CAV needs to ensure it has the requisite infrastructure to support supplier development,” he points out. “Local supplier development in high-tech sectors is essential. Universities, science councils, industry associations, and so on, need to put in place a very strong set of developmental priorities to ensure we can participate in, and benefit from, the technology development waves that are occurring. The areas of the Industrial Internet of Things and Big Data are going to fundamentally shift the locations for the emergence of technological opportunities.”
Part of the CAV’s corporate social responsibility programme will be to share information on, and communicate experiences about, new opportunities to potential new entrants to the aerospace and defence sectors. These will include individuals as well as SMEs. In particular, there will be a whole range of opportunities for students graduating from tertiary educational institutions with science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics (STEM) qualifications. This, in turn, is likely to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects. “The foundation of STEM is absolutely critical to meet the stringent requirements that advanced technology companies will be looking for.
“A personal passion of mine is to provide a return on the investment in my education and knowledge,” asserts Schultz. “So, the CAV will also be participating with disadvantaged schools to stimulate interest in aerospace and therefore also in STEM subjects and ensure that they excel in STEM subjects, as they gear up for the new technology wave that is going to hit.”