The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is blurring the boundaries between how people traditionally see an organisation and what people call a “factory” in the first place, says technology advisory company On-a-Cloud CEO Geoff Scott.
During a seminar at the Local Manufacturing Expo, in Johannesburg, on Wednesday, he discussed how intelligent factories could be established.
On-a-Cloud helps companies work through “fuzzy thinking”, providing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and designing business models in line with 4IR.
Scott noted that 4IR involved the convergence of multiple digital fields, including cybersecurity, nanotechnology, logistics, biotechnology, big data, artificial intelligence, IoT, robotics, cloud computing, additive manufacturing, automation and machine learning.
“As new technology emerges and new markets develop, the impact on manufacturing will be enormous. The changing economics of production and distribution, along with shifts in consumer demand and the emergence of ‘smart’ products, are pushing manufacturers to explore radical new ways of creating value.
“As much as new product and manufacturing technologies are transforming the inside of production processes, many of the same technologies are blurring the boundaries of the organisation,” said Scott.
He added that 4IR was more than the technology that functioned inside a factory. It included personnel’s connected mobile devices, location detection technologies, advanced human-machine interfaces, authentication and fraud detection, three-dimensional printing, multilevel customer interaction and customer profiling and augmented reality for training and other augmented reality wearables.
Scott averred that, outside of the factory, digitisation and integration of vertical and horizontal value chains was possible, as were digital business models, customer access, and digitisation of product and service offerings.
For example, he pointed out the example of FabIndia – a fashion and craft brand that was established in 1960 – that has no factory, yet exports globally, while operating hundreds of retail stores in India and internationally.
In addition to not having a physical factory, Scott highlighted that the company does not operate a supply chain, with its production coordinated by nine regional cooperatives across India.
The cooperatives coordinate the logistics and production of 60 000 individual craft producers across India.
Scott said the lesson out of the FabIndia example was that companies go further with a mindset that reimagined productive work as an inclusive ecosystem, used technology to build and share value and thought about the place of technology in their business differently.
“A big opportunity for Africa in terms of 4IR often lies in connecting all stakeholders, rather than building smart factories with huge amounts of capital expenditure.”