South African industry needs to find ways of adapting and using the technologies driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industrial Revolution 4.0) to remain globally competitive, yet maintain and create jobs in a high-unemployment environment. So argued productONE MD Charles Anderson at the recent Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Conference 2017, in Pretoria.
He pointed out that the original Industrial Revolution was based on harnessing steam power for transport, manufacturing and electricity generation. The Second Industrial Revolution was based on the introduction of mass production and the Third on electronics. The current iteration, 4.0, is based on digital technology, including the Internet, Big Data processing, cloud computing and additive manufacturing (‘three-dimensional, or 3D, printing’).
He noted that many South African manufacturing companies were still structured and operated as Third Industrial Revolution enterprises, heavily reliant on often only semi-skilled or traditionally skilled (for example, welders) labour. They faced international competitors using robots and technologically skilled labour.
“I believe that there is certainly a way that these new technologies can be used to create jobs and support development [in South Africa],” he assured. For example, augmented reality technology, using headsets and visors, could be used to assist and increase the productivity and quality of the output of traditionally skilled, even semiskilled and perhaps also unskilled, workers. These systems could provide the workers using them with real-time advice and guidance audiovisually.
More generally, he noted that the foundation for the development of modern defence products was computer-aided design (better known as CAD). Digital technology allowed CAD systems to be directly connected with machine tools to manufacture products with extreme precision. And digital systems would also allow the provision of the information needed to maintain and support the product for the people responsible for these tasks.
“Future product life-cycle management [will be dependent on] digital engineering, digital manufacturing and digital service,” argued Anderson. These three pillars would be linked together by the Internet of Things. “The Internet of Things enables true product life cycle management.”
ProductONE’s corporate slogan is ‘Making African Products Great’ (although it describes this as its ‘Massive Transformative Purpose’, which, in turn, it defines as “a company’s BIG idea that can support its mission and vision”). It was set up in 1991, selling the Pro/Engineer Parametric CAD package from PTC. It remains part of the PTC partner network.
Today, the company provides product development and technology solutions. “Our business philosophy is to add value by understanding our customer’s business challenges, thereby allowing us to partner with them to create tailor-made solutions,” it states on its website. “Our technical and sales consultants follow this approach, [which has] resulted in long-standing partnerships with our customers.” It has Level 2 broad-based black economic- empowerment status.
It supplies and supports PTC’s Creo 3.0 CAD software for 3D printing. It does the same for PTC’s ThingWorx software, described as the “first platform designed to build and run the applications of the connected world”, or to make the Internet of Things work in practice using only one platform.