For South Africa to grow its manufacturing base, which currently contributes between 12.5% and 14% of the overall gross domestic product, the manufacturing industry needs to up its competitiveness, says Deloitte Africa manufacturing industry leader Karthi Pillay.
Pillay tells Engineering News that South Africa’s manufacturing industry, which employs about 1.7-million people, can improve its competitiveness by focusing on the future and its impact on the industry.
He highlights Germany as one of the leaders in global manufacturing and emphasises its focus on Industry 4.0, which represents Germany’s notion that the fourth industrial revolution – which aims to turn ‘dumb’ hardware into ‘smart’ hardware, thereby creating smart factories – is under way.
“Industry 4.0 is the coming together of the manufacturing industry and advanced technology, which involves converting machines used in factories into smart hardware by adding technology and advanced analytics to improve the manufacturing process.”
Pillay believes that South Africa should start earnestly focusing on Industry 4.0 not only to understand it but also to define South Africa’s participation in this revolution to retain and develop its manufacturing base.
He adds that the concept also entails using data more efficiently, which involves installing sensing equipment in manufacturing machines to collect data on the use of machinery and sending it for analysis. “This enables operators to predict when the machine is going to break, or when it is best to have production downtime.”
Pillay further notes that, with Industry 4.0, there is better machine-to-machine and improved machine-to-people connectivity.
He says people with the relevant advanced skills – “a technology-driven talent” – are also needed to manage this new manufacturing concept.
Moving Manufacturing Forward
Pillay adds that, in countries such as Germany and the US, the manufacturing industries, together with government, are cooperating with research and academic institutions to advance manufacturing.
He believes that South Africa should be doing that as well, as the country has relatively good transportation infrastructure, including road and rail infrastructure, and a strong financial system capable of supporting manufacturing growth.
“Therefore, our task of understanding and playing within Industry 4.0 is not going to be difficult,” he says. South Africa needs to ensure that there is cooperation between the private and public sectors, with the acknowledgement that manufacturing is a key industry that can help the country move out of the current levels of debt, poverty and unemployment.
“Hence, we need to consider ringfencing manufacturing and giving it the attention it needs to have impetus. We need all facets of government to realise the importance of manufacturing.”
Pillay adds that the Department of Trade and Industry is doing a lot to advance the manufacturing sector but says that better collaboration between government departments is needed to advance the interests of the country’s manufacturing industry.
If created, a ‘Manufacturing Think-Tank’, comprising representatives of government, private companies, research institutions and academic institutions, can focus on the future of the country’s manufacturing industry and the niche areas of manufacturing the country is going to focus on. This will not only help South Africa leverage its current strengths, but it will also help it identify its future stregnths, enabling it to adopt a global position within a niche manufacturing space. It should also aim to drive sustainability.
“A few years from now, we are probably going to be talking about Industry 5.0, with new developments meant to further advance industrial processes. We must ensure that we are ready for that when it happens,” concludes Pillay.