With the development of control devices and systems changing and migrating to smart technology in preparation for artificial intelligence (AI) for easier maintenance and faster responses, there is a significant skills gap between the expertise needed for this transition, and the curricula of education and training institutions, says Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Mechatronics and Control (SAIMC) director and CEO Johan Maartens.
SAIMC has noticed trends among AI members, such as the digitalisation and integration of more traditionally disparate systems increasing output while decreasing maintenance times. Cybersecurity, in particular, is playing a more prominent role in industry applications in South Africa, he says.
As smart systems are being implemented, they gather large quantities of data, which is then analysed as part of the data mining process. This is later integrated into machine learning algorithms, which allow for the optimisation of production and maintenance processes.
“The SAIMC’s main drive is to create an environment in which the training and education of new and existing technical staff and managers in these new technologies and smart systems is made possible. Traditionally, universities and higher education institutions have been extremely good at teaching the basics.”
However, the basics are no longer adequate to enter industry, owing to industry’s tight budgets, production timelines and other restraints, Maartens remarks, adding that industry now requires graduates to be experts in the technologies they represent.
Consequently, the SAIMC has worked with North West University, Nelson Mandela University, the Tshwane University of Technology and multinational industrial manufacturing company Siemens to develop the discipline-specific guidelines (DSGs) for mechatronics for the Engineering Council of South Africa.
Within these guidelines, mechatronic devices, process automation and factory automation are included. The DSGs are then used by assessors who are involved in the registration of professional engineering technicians, professional engineering technologists and professional engineer candidates to boost the standard and quality of professionals in respect of AI.
The SAIMC also hosts monthly technology events –presented by suppliers and end- users – which are continuous professional development-accredited.