Tech enables global competitiveness

21st May 2021 By: Khutso Maphatsoe - journalist

Key technologies, such as automation and the automatic control of systems, are transforming industries, enabling companies to remain competitive in a global market, says South African Council for Automation and Control (SACAC) president John Burchell.

“Advances in automation have allowed for the development of autonomous machines, employed to perform the laborious repetitive tasks in automated warehouses. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are drawing novel insights from datasets, and are allowing for new uses in automation and decision-making such as AI-assisted diagnoses from medical imaging.”

He points out that the trend towards autonomous machinery means one employee can oversee a number of machines that mostly operate themselves. While this reduces the labour demand for the operation, it requires the development of a new industry that will develop and service the autonomous machines.

“There is concern over two conflicting realities for our people. On the one hand, there will be opportunities for those who can take advantage of the disruptions caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). On the other hand, there will be a risk to the livelihoods of those replaced by automation and the industries that do not survive the disruption.”

To try to address this matter, Burchell points out that the SACAC has aligned itself to the national agenda by collaborating with the relevant organisations – such as technical professional organisation the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – Control Systems/Robotics and Automation Societies – to develop an interest in robotics, automation and control among learners and students.

In this regard, the SACAC has joined nonprofit company the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) that bring together organisations with an interest in science, engineering and technology.

“We support NSTF initiatives, such as the e-learning platform, STEMulator, which provides career guidance for learners and students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

Further, the council is collaborating with a chamber of commerce, the Capital City Business Chamber, and nonprofit organisation the Tshwane Chamber of Commerce for Tshwane and Industry, which is acting in an advisory capacity, to assist industry in Tshwane adapt to the 4IR.

Burchell says the SACAC members play an integral part in driving this transformation in industry and developing its theory in academia.

The council assists members in keeping up to date with the theoretical and technological developments that are driving the 4IR through conferences and workshops such as the Control Conference Africa that will be held on December 7 and 8, 2021.

Meanwhile, the SACAC has several other events planned such as the Control Systems Day where postgraduates in automation and control present their research.

This provides them with an opportunity to receive feedback from their peers and it provides industry with an opportunity to identify talent.

The council also hosts a yearly industrial innovation funding seminar in collaboration with consulting firm Cova Advisory. The seminar informs its members of strategies and opportunities to fund research and entrepreneurial innovation through grants and tax incentives.

“We would like to bridge the gap between industry and academia by establishing platforms for engagement to drive industry-relevant academic research and innovation.”