Industry 4.0 – smart new automation tools and technologies – is rapidly changing the face of manufacturing and industry around the world. Without a concerted effort to change industry processes and infrastructure, and upskill the workforce, South Africa risks falling behind the world in its efforts to become a player in the global manufacturing market. How- ever, new industry initiatives are emerging to address the skills short- fall and help propel South Africa into a smarter era of manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 to transform SAs workforce

“Industry 4.0 is having a profound impact on the electrical contracting industry,” writes Sarah Boisvert in her book, ‘The New Collar Workforce,’ which explores the jobs needed today in the digital world. “No longer are simple installations enough. Customers expect the industry to come fully into the digital world, incorporating technologies that improve performance through simulation, real-time tracking, analysis of big data, and more. Our old view of blue collar workers has to change if we are to provide 21st-century services to our customers. ‘New collar’ workers need to tap into digital skills, which means specialised training. New digital badges and microcertifications provide just this, and the industry must support innovative programmes that will allow for our staff to rapidly adapt to a changing workplace.”

In this era of control and digitisation, new technology requires installation by electrical contractors. The evolution of engaging Industry 4.0 is the next chapter in global industrialisation; it will change the tempo and efficiency of how world production moves, and the electrical contractor is at the centre of this, ready to perform a new job: enable systems, equipment, and operations to automate with Industry 4.0, and exploit this lucrative opportunity. 

Speaking ahead of Africa Automation Fair 2019, which takes place in June this year, automation industry stakeholders said aligning with the global Industry 4.0 revolution would demand a great deal of change and progress in South Africa. A key priority has to be skills. Dave Wibberley, Managing Director at Adroit Technologies, notes that Industry 4.0 in itself is not a ‘silver bullet’ that will change manufacturing. “Industry 4.0 refers to a set of tools and services. To be effective, these tools and services depend on the necessary resources and knowledge being in place in processes. You need to achieve world-class manufacturing and tooling first,” he says.

Frikkie Streicher, Business Development Manager at process instrumentation manufacturer

VEGA, says a greater effort is needed to develop the automation engineering skills pipeline, to allow South African industry to prepare for Industry 4.0: “Automation engineering is not yet recognised as a separate field in South Africa. We need to step up our focus on automation engineering if South Africa is to achieve its ambitions of becoming a manufacturing giant in Africa.”

“We are living in the most exciting time of our lives,” says Chris Leong, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing at Schneider Electric. “A digitised world where everything can be connected – products to people, products to products, product to cloud or what we like to call IoT. Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of energy management and automation in homes, buildings, data centres, infrastructure and industries. One of the most important roles we can play is enabling our customers, with our portfolio of partners, to leverage the full potential of IoT to make their businesses safer, more reliable, connected, efficient and sustainable. With EcoStruxure, our IoT-enabled, plug-and-play, open, interoperable architecture and platform, we can bring this to life to deliver true business value for our customers,” she says.

Annemarie van Coller, President of the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SAIMC), says that while automation presents massive economic growth opportunities, it does threaten the current environment’s workforce structure. “If you look at the current ‘triangle of training’, we have a small number of engineers at the apex, and a large number of artisans at the bottom. We need to invert this triangle, and produce a far greater number of engineers capable of supporting automation in future,” she says.

Efforts are now underway to fast-track this process, developing new curricula for automation engineers and introducing new learning models to upskill employees. Launching the new Intsimbi Future Production Technologies Initiative (IFPTI) NTIP’s Centre of Excellence in Cape Town earlier this year, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the government was committed to building capacity in response to the impact and opportunities that the 4th Industrial Revolution will bring about.

While funding models and curriculum development are still under discussion, van Coller is optimistic that the new initiative will drive the change the sector needs. “We’re very excited about this, and its potential. It will bring new opportunities for upskilling – gone are the days of being too old, or living too far from a university. This model allows for free, flexible, home-based learning using online tools, along with some facilitator-led learning. Stakeholders are also looking at the necessary infrastructures for participants in rural areas with limited internet access. It presents the hope that we can develop our own advanced automation skills pipeline and stop relying on imported skills,” she says.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.

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