Musa Ndlangamandla – (Industry takes the lead in 4IR published in Science Forum 2019)
In today’s fast-paced technology driven society the lines between the physical and digital worlds are blurring with each passing day. As the world becomes more connected and technology changes the way we live, work and play, the manufacturing industries are at the forefront of adopting advanced technologies in manufacturing and automation to drive their processes and the overall production workflow.
They are adopting the 4IR technologies, which can be understood as cyber-physical systems, networks, and artificial intelligence (AI) embedded in new ways within larger societies, communities, and even in the human body. However, the cardinal point in driving the manufacturing productivity and ensure companies have to continuously improve efficiencies is continuous skills development and, in that regard, the advanced manufacturing industry sector is tackling skills development head on.
To that end, the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) Discussion Forum was held in September 2019, bringing together key stakeholders in the science and technology ecosystem for discussions on how new technologies, and 4IR in general, have the potential to revolutionise manufacturing industries in South Africa, and the greater continent. The colloquium was held in partnership with the NSTF proSET sector (professionals in science, engineering and technology) and the SA Innovation Summit.
A common theme when defining 4IR was the emphasis on human development. When referring to the manufacturing sector, Ilse Karg, Chief Director: Future Industrial Production Technologies, Industrial Development Division (IDD), Department of Trade and Industry (dti), noted that Industry 4.0 connects embedded system production technologies and smart production processes to pave the way to a new technological age which will radically transform industry and production value chains and business models. “It is clear that robots will replace people in factories. At the same time, policies shouldn’t focus on protecting jobs but on protecting the person. Smart factories include the cloud, computers, sensors, robots, and machines.
It’s the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation, with no people on the production line. Humans will be peripheral and focus on high-end skills, maintaining developing apps and so on,” Karg said. Meanwhile, the dti aims to grow the manufacturing sector, a particularly important sector for job creation, new business, and skills development. The dti is currently working on the Digital Industrial Policy Framework, along with labour, industry, other government departments, civil society, and the international community. The framework looks at developing an ecosystem that includes smart factories, legislation and regulation, digital transformation, and policy coherence.
Karg says that South African data, across industries, shows an increasing gap between skills demand and skills supply. This is critical considering the industry sees talent driving manufacturing competitiveness.
One intervention that is making major inroads to address the challenge is Intsimbi Future Production Technologies Initiative, a partnership between government (the dti and Department of Higher Education and Training) and industry. “This is a talent-driven innovation model and the pilot is already showing success with over 80% throughput of students. The aim is skills development and enterprise competitiveness, focusing on the advanced manufacturing sector. It is seen as one of the systemic solutions to industry’s demand for talent.
Over 2000 students have gone through the pilot and successful graduates are internationally certified within manufacturing,” Karg said. Intsimbi is run by the National Technologies Implementation Platform (NTIP). NTIP is a project management company that falls under the Production Technologies Association of South Africa (PtSA). Dirk van Dyk, NTIP CEO, said Intsimbi exists as part of the solution to ensure South Africa actually has manufacturing industries in the future. The programme is the manufacturing sector’s’ response to 4IR and it is already in process. It provides training in highly advanced manufacturing skills. Consequently, a key point made during the Forum was that traditional skills are still needed, as well as learning the fundamentals. Skills for new technology are then added into this pool.