South Africa’s manufacturing sector is capable of thriving, but only if it adopts Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies such as 3D Printing, Advanced Robotics and cognitive automation, Artificial Intelligence and IoT. That’s the stark warning Schalk Laubscher, Production Manager at Etion Create (previously Parsec), issued to attendees at the Manufacturing Indaba, currently underway in Johannesburg.
According to Laubscher, digitising the South African manufacturing space will improve the country’s economy by allowing it to compete more effectively with other countries.
“Manufacturing has the ability to reduce unemployment and improve the economy,” says Laubscher. “Despite these obvious benefits, many everyday objects are manufactured overseas, largely in the US, Japan, Germany, China, to name a few. There is no reason this should be the case. South Africa has a wealth of creativity and innovation and there is an abundance of people desperate for work.”
With Etion Create constantly driving innovation through technology in the design and manufacturing space, Laubscher is ideally positioned to make such a bold statement.
At present, manufacturing represents a little over 15% of South Africa’s GDP and is dwarfed by the finance, real estate and business services sectors. By contrast, manufacturing accounts for around 30% of the GDP of South Korea — a country with a similar population size to that of South Africa.
If South Africa is to catch up to those levels, while overcoming a shortage of qualified engineers and data scientists, it must embrace digitalisation.
“Compared with its African peers, South Africa is ideally poised to capitalise on including technology in manufacturing,” says Laubscher. “As a nation, we have a culture of finding innovative solutions to age-old problems, and we are driven by a need to improve the lives of those around us. This is the land of Ubuntu after all.”
As Laubscher points out, there is a reluctance among some in the South African manufacturing space to fully embrace digital technologies for fear that it will put jobs at risk. These fears that machines will kill jobs, the Etion Create production manager believes, are unfounded .
“Through technology, the workplace will be enhanced, most notably by eradicating repetitive tasks and allowing people time to focus on further creativity and innovation,” Laubscher says. “The human element will never be replaced by machines; this fear is rooted in ignorance and this is one of the reasons conversation concerning technology are critical”.
Ultimately, embracing technology will not only improve the process of manufacturing but create the opportunity of generating more lucrative and less wasteful processes.
“The key to success is innovation, and South Africa is the perfect melting pot for the cumulation of genius and inspiration,” concludes Laubscher.
Edited by Daniëlle Kruger
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