South African industry needs to find ways of adapting and using the technologies driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) to remain globally competitive, yet maintain and create jobs in a high-unemployment environment. So argued productONE MD Charles Anderson at the Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Conference 2017 in Pretoria on Friday.
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 invention of mass production. The Third, on electronics. The current iteration, 4.0, is based on digital technology, including the Internet, big data processing, cloud computing and additive ("3D") manufacturing.
He noted that a lot of 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 head sets and visors, could be used to assist and increase the productivity and quality of the output of traditionally skilled, even semi-skilled, 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 to the people responsible for these tasks.
"Future product lifecycle 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 lifecycle management."