Following the launch of the PTC, productONE and 1Worx sponsored Emerging Lab in Soshanguve, Peter Middleton reflects on the merging of CAD, IT, OT and automation, the disruptive change it is likely to cause in the workplace and the nature of the new jobs needed.

Peter pic latestThere was a time when CAD meant computer-aided drafting. It was about using computers to draw, in the same way as word processing was about using computers to type. The description of the latest release of PTC’s Creo 5.0 retains the general ‘computer-aided’ product designation: ‘3D CAD/CAM/CAE software and solutions’, but this quickly disappears in the product blurb, where we read about ‘breakthrough capabilities in additive manufacturing, IIoT, model-based definition (MBD) and augmented reality (AR)’ all so as to ‘design faster and smarter by connecting your digital design to your physical products’.

In the automation space, we now talk about Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial IoT (IIoT), the Connected Enterprise, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, cyber-physical systems (CPS), the web-of-things (WOT), cloud-based computing, big data analytics, and so on.

It is no wonder that Duan Gauché of iWorx, the local agent for PTC’s Thingworx software, believes there is a lot of confusion in the market about what the IIoT is. Talking to MechChem Africa at the launch of the Emerging Lab at TUT’s Soshanguve campus last month, he described Thingworx, PTC’s IIoT software as: “an Industrial Innovation Platform”.

On the first day of Rockwell Automation’s June 2018 TechED conference in San Diego, the company’s chairman and CEO, Blake Moret, talked about a “wide field of technology to be harnessed” before announcing a significant new strategic partnership with PTC: a US$1-billion equity investment by Rockwell Automation in PTC’s technology platform and solutions, which “help companies to design, manufacture, operate and service things for a smart, connected world”.

Key to the agreement is the convergence of the company’s respective IIoT and smart factory technologies: PTC’s ThingWorx IIoT, Kepware industrial connectivity and the Vuforia augmented reality platform with FactoryTalk MES, FactoryTalk Analytics, and the Integrated Architecture control systems from Rockwell Automation.

Commenting on the deal, Gauché says that it reflects the inevitable convergence of information and operational technology. Design, product development and product lifecycle solutions; business and manufacturing enterprise systems; data analysis and historians; and machine control and automation on factory floors are all merging, with platforms such as Thingworx as the bridge, connecting to the devices and rapidly channelling the data collected in myriad ways.

Back in Soshanguve, Duan Gauché says the idea of the Emerging Lab is to catch youngsters while at university so that they become “our next-generation creatives, making African products and operations greater than ever”.

On the creation of jobs, he believes that, rather than take jobs away, this 4th industrial revolution will create jobs, but he warns that these will be very different, even from the ones we currently do. He says that PTC estimates that in the next ten years there will be two million unfilled ICT jobs around the world.

Moret also highlights the growing skills gap in the US. New talent is in short supply and experienced people are retiring, he says adding that this is becoming a limiting factor for growth.

“But technology is useless unless people are comfortable with it and can interact with it in a useful way,” he says, adding: “We need people who understand the process to guide the integration.”

For companies to continue to innovate and compete around the world, Moret believes that worker knowledge must be blended with technology. Doing the same things in the same way won’t work. Fewer workers means industry needs more flexible workers who are cross-trained in a variety of disciplines.

Celebrating the partnership in South Africa between PTC, 1Worx and TUT, systems engineering professor at the Soshanguve campus, Pius Owalawi, says that engineering students in Africa have been disadvantaged with respect to practical training. At MIT, where he studied, technology partnerships with industry are common and all students have access to practical equipment and labs that are funded and built by industry. The Emerging Lab brings this approach to Africa.

Doing things differently also drives Sizwe Mngadi from 1Worx, the Emerging Lab champion. “University coursework left a gap with respect to the practical side required in the corporate world, so I began to talk to my student colleagues and to professor Owolawi about starting a practical IIoT-based programme in Soshanguve,” he says.

The world is changing fast and, as with all changes associated with industrial revolutions, people are going to experience disruptive change in the workplace.

How should we respond? Let’s start by celebrating the achievements and offering support to local initiatives and talent. Sizwe Mngadi, Pius Owolawi, Duan Gauché and all the others who played a part in the establishment of the Emerging IIoT Lab in Soshanguve have seen the need and placed the first of many pieces necessary to rise to the challenge of the future.

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