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By Vishay Rabbipal, Head of Renewable Energy at Absa

The fusion of technologies has characterised the digital revolution, often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, which is expected to impact industries and economies and fundamentally alter the way we live.

The article appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2021 on pages 70-71.
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With billions of people connected to smart devices, unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and unlimited access to knowledge allow collaboration and innovation never seen before. These possibilities are now being further enhanced by emerging technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, energy storage, quantum computing, and the list goes on.

Industry 4.0 is expected to drive greater efficiencies and controls throughout value chains, from transporting goods to manufacturing. Therefore, as these become more digitised and interconnected, it will ultimately lead to more competitive pricing. It is also expected to bring about change to age-old business models, techniques and practices based on the vast amount of data created, stored and analysed along the product life cycle. This interconnectedness and flexibility of Industry 4.0 and the technologies used can also unlock several opportunities to support the transition to more efficient production practices and sustainable energy systems.

With the greater depth of data, including the ability to better understand energy needs and usage, businesses are better equipped to cope with grid constraints. Having a better understanding of energy usage will enable companies to align their production planning with peak energy generation times to better match their demand for power with the actual available supply. Likewise, with all this data on hand, investment in renewable energy, including self-consumption, will be encouraged as production shifts to times that suit them best.

With greater investments in renewable energy such as solar PV and wind, energy-efficiency technologies – driven by the ever-improving business case as well as the need to mitigate change – will continue to drive demand for workers in a range of occupations, including engineering, designing, manufacturing, construction, and installation. Furthermore, entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to add value with the creation of businesses in the circular economy. An example of this would be the recycling of solar waste components like batteries and panels.

It is vital to keep up with industry advancements and stay ahead of automation

There is a wide-ranging landscape with all these interlinkages to create economic value and deliver goods and services aligned to this future landscape.

These digitised and interconnected businesses will fundamentally change working environments and create new types of jobs, which require new skillsets in the workforce. This transformation does, however, come with challenges. The World Economic Forum recommends that businesses deal with these challenges by taking up more responsibility for upskilling, reskilling and collaborating rather than competing on talent. Hence, business owners and the workforce should embrace change instead of resisting it, adapt and commit to constantly learning. It is vital to keep up with industry advancements and stay ahead of automation, especially since we’re bound to encounter projects and problems that we can’t conceive of today.

As Industry 4.0 becomes more prominent, there is a need to manage the short-term transition of workplace skills as well as build a workforce with the futureproofed skills required. Encouragingly, as more youth enter the tertiary education system, Industry 4.0 will hopefully drive more significant interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) professions. Shifting work toward a focus on design as engineering will ensure we maintain curiosity and a problem-solving mindset. This shift will bode well for the birth of new engineering roles. Engineering will continue to drive many of these Industry 4.0 advancements and solve some of the world’s most unrelenting challenges. ESI

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