4IR offers significant opportunities for Africa’s manufacturing sector

4IR offers significant opportunities for Africa’s manufacturing sector


Some may argue that Africa has missed out on the opportunity for large scale industrialisation due to its unpredictable economies, while some point out that many technologies characterised by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) equips African countries with the ability to leapfrog hurdles.

According to Industrial Development Think Tank, the need to develop digital skills in the manufacturing knowledge-base for South Africa is crucial, and the global economy is undergoing a period of structural and technological transformation with the arrival of the 4IR or Industry 4.0.

The term Industry 4.0 encompasses a promise of a new industrial revolution – one that marries advanced manufacturing techniques with the Internet of Things (IoT) to create manufacturing systems that are not only interconnected but communicate, analyse, and use the information to drive further intelligent action back in the physical world.

Companies, from all sectors across the world, are quickly learning to embrace business in the digital age, and the rate of technology adoption is increasing at a rapid pace.

There’s no doubt that the 4IR offers amazing opportunities in sectors such as education, technology and manufacturing – to name a few. Sustainable and profitable companies of the future will be those that have embraced 4IR.

One analysis predicts that Kenya has less than 15 years to develop its furniture manufacturing capacity, before the cost of production in the US will be lower using robotic production.

According to national sales manager at PFERD South Africa, Dennis Phillips, in order to harness the opportunities presented by the 4IR, Africa requires that the right infrastructure is in place.

“A 4IR future requires certain infrastructure to be in place including a reliable energy supply, faster and better internet connectivity and 5G mobile technology. The latter, for example, will enable the IoT to provide for more productivity and efficiency.”

Accelerated digitisation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics and 3D printing are all key features of the 4IR – and all of them have implications for education and employment.

“The challenge for Africa is that education – particularly in the area of higher education – has tended to lag in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” says Phillips.

“These subjects are all critically important in terms of utilising 4IR to its full potential. At a basic education level learners need to be learning how to code and programme from an early age. Tertiary education needs to be focused on ensuring a better match between what they teach and the skills businesses need.”

“In the past year technology has been successfully utilised in the fight to contain the pandemic. Examples of this include a WhatsApp-based interactive artificial intelligence chatbot providing Covid-related advice which was launched in South Africa and the use of drones to deliver protective gear to medical personnel in Rwanda and Ghana.”

“The biggest opportunities as far as 4IR technologies are concerned is in the manufacturing sector. The most significant benefits of 4IR are around automation, including automating routine and repetitive tasks to allow for better productivity and efficiencies. The manufacturing sector is ideally placed to benefit from these advances.”

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