For South Africa to compete successfully in a 4th Industrial Revolution economy, stakeholders across all sectors must work together to drive progress in the country and specifically automation.
This is according to Professor Marcia Mkansi, an associate professor at the Department of Operations Management at UNISA and one of the organisers of the upcoming African Operations Management Conference, to be staged alongside Africa Automation Fair in June this year.
Mkansi says South Africa still lags behind world automation leaders such as Germany and China, and even fellow BRICS country India in terms of industrial automation progress. “We shouldn’t fall behind and become consumers and adopters of foreign intellectual property. We need to see sectors such as mining, agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare innovating to address challenges unique to our continent.”
The associate professor says that while South Africa has made slow progress, lacking the necessary skills, scale and business confidence to build out globally competitive factories, there are still significant opportunities for 4th Industrial Revolution progress: “There is still a chance for South Africa to take the lead in Africa, but it needs a national effort,” she says.
She notes that automation cuts across all sectors, and is not limited to manufacturing or industry. “Automation is the future – it is the basis of the 4th Industrial Revolution. You see it in the service industry, for example, where airports use scanners instead of staff to check passports, and where restaurants have automated payment terminals.”
To make this progressive step, South Africa needs to embrace a triple helix approach in which government, industry and academia make a coherent commitment to work together to support the country’s ambitions, she says.
“We need more emphasis on STEM skills and innovation development at grassroots level. We need industry and academia to collaborate to ensure that skills meet industry needs,” states Mkansi.
According to the professor, UNISA is currently collaborating with the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SAIMC) to introduce South Africa’s first formal automation qualification, to be delivered through UNISA’s department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.
“Our partnership with Africa Automation Fair is another example of us being proactive in bringing together stakeholders across academia, industry and government to improve collaboration,” she says.
The African Operations Management Conference will run alongside Africa Automation Fair for the first time this year, allowing conference delegates access to the Africa Automation Fair exhibition area and networking opportunities.
Speakers at this year’s conference will include the likes of Professor Norman McLennan of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, who is a trusted business improvement advisor across the breadth of commercial and supply chain activities and is currently advising the China Ocean Engineering Shanghai; and Simon Carpenter, chief technology advisor at SAP Africa responsible for leading SAP Africa’s digital transformation initiatives with a focus on business innovation and thought leadership and providing direction to SAP’s customers and partners on emerging business and technology issues such as OT/IT convergence, Big Data, business network transformation, mobility, cloud computing, and business process management.