Initiated by the Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC), the project is now spearheaded by the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy (AMTS) unit and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
The first step is to determine the scope of the project, with inputs from potential stakeholders such as the science councils, the AIDC, industry, the Department of Trade and Industry and academia.
AMTS manager Sushil Borde explains that one of the aims of the project is to inform automotive manufacturers worldwide of South Africa’s technical prowess in the automotive industry.
“As was the case with Australia, much can be done to promote and showcase our technical capabilities to international markets, and this project could provide an effective demonstration of how diverse and advanced our automotive com-ponent-manufacturing industry is – after all, seeing is believing,” Borde expands.
The Australian project generated a return-on-investment and it is hoped that similar results will arise for the South African industry.
Additional benefits of the project are that it would provide an internal gauge of the local industry, characterising its strengths and weaknesses, and would expose areas in which South African manufacturers could develop strategic technological capabilities, for instance in new advanced materials. Putting the model together will involve the collaborative efforts of government, industry and academia, Borde says.
Long identified as a sector that had the potential to drive economic growth, the automotive industry was recognised as a middle- to high-technology area that could improve its global competitiveness through technology-intensive development.
“South Africa stands with a rating of 0,108 on the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s Competitive Industry Performance Index (CIPI), with a technology intensity of $17 per capita and, through the combined efforts of government, industry, labour and technological development, South Africa is targeting a CIPI of 0,2 and a technology intensity of $30 per capita by 2014,” he informs.
Eight drivers have been singled out to upgrade industry and technology – for seven sectors that are seen as promising for economic growth.
These drivers centre around factors such as investment climate, market access, smarter use of imported technologies and development of local ones, cost regulations, human resources, and infrastructure and logistics.
Borde reports that, with South Africa’s current CIPI of 0,108, the country sits in a designated band of four out of a total of five.
Should South Africa succeed in achieving a 0,20 CIPI, it will rank alongside countries including Australia, Mexico and Malaysia in band three.
While South Africa’s infrastructure is above the band-three average, it lags far behind its own band average for technical skills and foreign direct investment.
To fulfil its mandate to increase technology intensity in the advanced manufacturing industries, the AMTS has also embarked on a project to develop regional advanced-technology laboratories, focusing on strategic industries in each region with collaboration between industry and academia.
Already under way is the laboratory in the Eastern Cape, which is focusing on robotics for the automotive sector.
Stemming from an information and communication technology manufacturing focus, the project received a grant from the Innovation Fund.
Further phase-one laboratories will be developed in Kwazulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Gauteng, which could result in synergies from which the automotive sector could benefit.
“It has been proposed that the Gauteng laboratory should focus on the aerospace industry, with the starting point a possible industry-driven technology roadmapping of the sector,” Borde notes.
“Clearly there will be technological areas that will affect the aerospace and automotive sectors; the AMTS will drive this integration for highest benefit to both in the implementation phase.” While funding of about R85-million over three years has been motivated for the AMTS in the DST’s medium-term expenditure framework, the strategy will continually generate funding and support from other government sources, donors and industry.