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MESA conference presents learnings, considerations for manufacturing digitalisation

15th November 2023

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online


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The modern trend toward digitalisation and the drive to use fewer resources while producing more has created opportunities for optimised systems architecture that integrates and enables collaboration of systems.

This was noted by Rand Refinery information and communications technology Infrastructure manager Dr Mike Sishi during the first day of nonprofit organisation the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) Africa’s yearly summit, being held this week in Muldersdrift.

Sishi noted that traditional organisations used various standalone computerised systems; however, this made data transfer, systems management and collaboration difficult to achieve.

He added that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) framework encompassed three integrations, that is, vertical integration for connecting the shopfloor with operational systems and enterprise levels systems; end-to-end integration for creating product genealogy; and horizontal integration for enabling collaboration of business partners to achieve an integrated value chain.

Sishi averred that the 4IR framework could be applied through the adoption of the Reference Architecture Model for Industrie 4.0, which encompassed three dimensions, that is, layers, lifecycle and value stream, and hierarchy levels.

Sishi pointed out that 4IR employed technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cyber-physical systems to support the integration of systems within the organisation to collaborate with the outside world.

He added that the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) by the industrial sector had resulted in the rise of the IIoT where machines and humans collaborate.

This facilitates the inception of cyber-physical systems and subsequently makes the IoT the main enabler of the 4IR, he explained.

Sishi highlighted that cyber-physical systems were the mainstay of 4IR and that this enhanced industrial operations and created considerable economic benefits.

MESA International board member Dr Ananth Seshan, who was presenting learnings from the implementation of smart manufacturing in small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs), hypothesised that the challenges of SMMs in low- to mid-income economies were considerably different from those in high-income economies.

He said that a possible approach to address this challenge could be if the former’s economies collaborate to form a “Smart Manufacturing Group for SMMs”, to share ideas, experiences and knowledge.

This would focus on creating funding mechanisms for smart manufacturing development in SMMs across the group; transforming SMMs to the new sustainable, digital manufacturing era; building secure, connected value chains for the SMMs across the group; and developing the next generation workforce, Seshan outlined.

He explained that the smart manufacturing pilot project, which was implemented for a company that manufactured steering and brake components, had the objectives of tracing materials and reducing material loss; reducing cost of quality; improving fact-based decision-making; improving the accuracy in the measurement of key performance indicators; achieving better integration with suppliers; and using unskilled labour to perform skilled tasks with assistance from digital technology.

Seshan highlighted that these objectives were typically the initial set of objectives that most SMMs would aspire to when starting their digital journey.

The pilot project plan was successfully executed over a year. The first quarter entailed integration information flow to material slow/quality; the second entailed synchronisation between quality, materials and production and integrations to suppliers; the third entailed integration of operational intelligence with business information technology system; and the fourth entailed evaluation and dissemination.

Seshan indicated that one of the learnings was that getting both management and employee buy-in was paramount.

Another learning was that having an industry-agnostic, neutral player as a stakeholder in the process was helpful.

Moreover, another learning was that having academia as a stakeholder was useful to implement the smart manufacturing pilot.

He noted that the lessons learned were used to establish a consortium of government, industry organisations, academia, small manufacturers, industry 4.0 providers and system integrators.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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