Is Africa ready for Industry 4.0?


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Is Africa ready for Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing?

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Industry 4.0 is in its infancy even in Europe and there are no successful implementations anywhere in the world. However, the concept of big data and automation coming together to give you the ability to have infinite flexibility and to be able to produce exactly what the customer wants is actually the objective of Lean. The concept of Lean is to be able to replicate the economies of scale across multiple products.

The problem with Industry 4.0 is that to automate something you have to understand it exceptionally well. And there has to be consistency in all the inputs to the process. That understanding is often what is lacking and there is no consistency in all the inputs. It is important to have control of all the suppliers and the process. Everything that is going to impact the process has to be stable.

The process itself has to be very stable, the raw material has to be very stable and the conditions under which you manufacture your tooling have to be nearly perfect and always give the same result. Even the tooling needs to be consistent. This in itself is a challenge since different tools are used in one process and require special setup. Using the tool requires someone with good judgemental skills to get the tool to perform in such a way as to get a first-off perfect product. The perfect conditions to be Industry 4.0-ready don’t even exist in Europe and are certainly not in South Africa.

For example, look at a factory that makes crates for coca cola. Every tool is different and unique that is involved in the process. To get to a level of standardisation, the standards for all tools used in the process need to be consistent.

We cannot assume that every tool produces a good enough quality product. To produce a quality product you need human intervention and judgement. Being Industry 4.0 means taking Lean to the nth degree and taking humans out of the decision making process. Lean refers to maximising customer value and minimising waste and creating more value for customers with less wasted resources.

The strategy is to have brilliant processes that average people can achieve exceptional results from.

Industry 4.0 is not a technological challenge, the technology can do it. The problem is reducing waste, irrationality

The principle of the ten thousand rule is, to become an expert in any field you need ten thousand hours of deliberate practice. If someone is wanting to revolutionise manufacturing they will need to apply the ten thousand hour rule. If you have not spent ten thousand hours working on the shop floor and eliminating waste, irrationality and variance then you are not going to know where to start and you will waste a lot of money.

In Africa are there industries better suited to manufacturing to take advantage of the IoT (industry of things) revolution? For companies with a limited range of products and who have already gone down a road of Lean, they could take advantage of IoT. The reason or driving force towards Industry 4.0 could be lack of good leadership and the absence of people engaged in what they do. Industry 4.0 tends to eliminate people from the manufacturing process. In Africa this would prevent union problems but it is politically be impossible.

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