Owing to its customers requiring cost-effective, faster and better solutions, capital equipment manufacturer First Cut MD Andrew Poole says automation coupled with innovation is pivotal to the future of companies in the local steel industry.
The prospect of automation threatening the livelihood of manual labourers in South Africa is a reality that industries must be sensitive to, says Poole. “If the country is to be competitive globally, the odds are that the owner of a business can upskill his labour and reallocate employees to other positions.”
Automation’s end destination is efficiency, which directly affects the cost of production. Rather than having an employee executing a simple manual labour task, business owners can use such labourers more productively.
Poole says it is essential to automate to protect jobs because, if South Africa does not automate, it will no longer be part of a globally competitive industry, and job losses will ensue, regardless. “Automation is either our friend or our foe. If it is our friend, we will ultimately be better off.”
To aid South Africa in adapting quicker to rapidly evolving technology in the steel industry, Poole believes that it is important for business owners to research the latest trends and developments. First Cut recently attended the Machine Tools Africa (MTA) industrial expo, which was held at the Nasrec Expo Centre, in Johannesburg, from May 9 to 12. With the participation of various capital equipment and consumables companies, First Cut was able to engage directly with South African business owners, which created opportunities for future automation within their companies.
Poole recommends that business owners attend exhibitions that display the latest developments in industry. Many importers of capital equipment, such as First Cut, also serve as intermediaries, sharing the latest in industry knowledge from overseas manufacturers with South African consumers on how to lower the cost per cut, ultimately ensuring greater productivity and profitability.
Industry 4.0 and 5.0
Poole explains that Industry 4.0 and 5.0 manufacturing trends involve using automation and computerisation to improve manufacturing efficiency and productivity, with the main objective being to “employ automation to take the human element out of mindless repetitive production, and thereby improve consistency and output”.
Machines that are automated will also be integrated. Poole uses the example of the Bystronic ByStar fibre laser and First Cut’s Bystronic Xpert 40 press brake communicating with each other in a so-called ‘smart’ factory. In this way, customers will achieve harmonised, efficient production, which is responsive to external changes or damages.
In such a scenario, First Cut would not only provide the capital equipment but also the solutions required in the production line before and after the manufacturing of an item. Bystronic would also communicate with other manufacturers in the supply chain to ensure flawless production efficiency, from raw material to finished product delivery.