Industry 4.0 in Africa: Where are we and what are the opportunities ahead?
Industry 4.0 is taking the world by storm. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and Big Data (to name just a few) are being implemented in many industries with great results.
In some parts of the Port of Rotterdam cranes and trucks are automated to operate containers to and from ships on their own. A company in Winchester, America have built robots that are capable of laying 3000 bricks per day (2000 more than the best and most trained human). At the Docklands Light Railway in London trains are driverless and in Germany Audi is making use of a complete smart factory floor for some of its production. While this is happening in other parts of the more developed world, what can Industry 4.0 do in the developing world?
According to a study conducted by Deloitte, adoption of Industry 4.0 in Africa is low compared to the rest of the world. “The results of our survey found that the overall adoption level of smart technologies that accelerate industry 4.0 remains at a foundation stage in the South African/African manufacturing industries, but has the potential to reverse the dwindling contribution of manufacturing GDP in the case of South Africa, which is currently 12% of GDP compared to 25% in the 60s,” says Karthi Pillay.
The main reasons behind the low adoption is said to be due to the poor economic climate that is forcing companies to cut costs as much as possible, and poor connectivity accessibility.
A leading South African economist, Mike Schussler believes that South Africa is over the worst and that by 2021/2022 the country will see a 3% GDP growth. The growth accelerator for industry according to Schussler will be the adoption of Fourth Industrial Automation technologies. He says that this era signals a shift from commodity-based economies and manual labour towards service-driven economies. “In the past 27 years alone, the number of people employed in agriculture has dropped from 44% to 28% globally, yet agricultural output has increased. Meanwhile, the number of service workers has increased from 31% to 49%,” he stated.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has recently introduced a strategy that aims to bring the private sector and innovate partners together to the get the ball on the roll for Industry 4.0 initiatives. The strategy focuses on the following nine areas: next-generation health, advanced agriculture and food, future production (chemicals), future production (mining), future production (manufacturing, defence and security, smart places, next generation enterprises an institutions and smart logistics. "The technologies that we develop must be aligned with the needs of industry and should assist in improving the lives of our people. The ultimate goal plan is to harness our resources and skills to support government and industry, thereby collectively contributing to the alleviation of unemployment, inequality and poverty in SA," Professor Thokozani Majozi, chairperson of the CSIR board, said at a media briefing.
According to an opinion piece by Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, The Minister of Communications, compiled earlier this year, South Africa is Africa’s leading industrialised nation. Here, in SA she believes that many industries are in the process of preparing for this next wave and if the education models are adapted for digital transformation, she thinks it could address youth unemployment.
She also believes the opportunity for Africa as a whole lies in trade in value-added products that form part of this revolution’s value chains. She encourages South African companies to consider Africa as a key market. “Intra-African trade remains low compared to other major regions in the world such as the EU and Asia. Africa needs to increase its production base of export manufacturing and focus on facilitating the movement of goods across borders in competitive ways,” she writes. And the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement that has been signed by nearly 50 African countries, could make Africa one of the largest free trade market zones in the world, she added.
Chief Executive NEC XON Arica, Eugene le Roux expressed his views on this topic at the firm’s 7th annual Summit. He believes that Africa will need to focus less on natural resources and start building a digital economy. While there are major challenges for the continent to achieve this goal, the advantage lies therein that Africa is not limited to a particular invention, technology or industry. “We can start afresh and we can make whatever is relevant to us, count”, he said.
“Africa will be the youngest and fastest growing population in the world and therein lies the opportunity.”
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As part of the 4Sight Group, we are perfectly aligned to offer customers across SA and Africa the automation solutions they need to address current challenges in industry.
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