It is estimated that the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is going to stimulate up to $3.7 Trillion in global manufacturing. The 4IR is a blend of biological, digital and physical worlds. Utilizing new technologies like cloud computing, robotics, advanced wireless technologies, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). So what is the 4IR and how could this transform your wholesale manufacturing business?


Understanding the 4th technological revolution


The 4IR builds on the previous Industrial revolution which was largely based on computers and automation. With the major change being that now, smart machine tools, advanced software, and robotics are changing how humans are required for work. This isn’t all bad as going forward staff will be able to engage in more meaningful work. From a manufacturing point of view, jobs going forward will require a much higher level of tech and computer skills as this industry will expand towards a more inclusive consumer-centric Internet of Things (IoT). Here, data will be collected and analysed in real-time, machines will sensor the systems and analyse consumer behaviour.


When properly implemented this will result in better productivity, increased product quality, and machine utilization. Some time ago, experts suggested that businesses that augmented to take advantage of the 4IR would experience massive results. However, this has not necessarily been the case so far, with many early adopters patiently drumming their fingers for the 4IR to take hold. Why is this? Because over 70% of the production industry is still stuck in the pilot phase, without committing to the final step of scaling up the new viable tech. Leaving only around 30% of manufacturing companies rolling out the 4IR technologies at scale. The latter is ahead of the game. Meaning that those who want to jump on the 4IR train need to gear up and either roll out their tech or upgrade where required.



Where to from here?


Digital transformation


This can take on a lot of different forms where paper goes digital, even extending to reporting. So for example Excel spreadsheets may be replaced with real-time dashboards that manage and analyse how much efficiency is lost or gained.


Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)


OEE refers to how companies are more connected than ever meaning (with the right integrated technology) you can now ask very in-depth questions like “How productive is our performance?” and “Are we building a high-quality product” and the tech integrations will help you answer it. This can only happen if a company clears as much waste as possible. As well as incorporate tools like toolpath simulation software, quick-change tooling, and tool pre-setting systems. While these can be pricy, the ROI is high. This is because with the right tech in place your level of analysability goes way up and you can make strategic decisions to streamline efficiencies, increase machine availability, and prioritize operations.



How will this affect manufacturers?


The 4IR will see tech integration across the entire manufacturing process. Manufacturing companies are already implementing this in important ways such as:


  • Leveraging cameras and wearables to assist entry into buildings, checking storage and conveying important communications internally.
  • Holding discussions around shift and line performance with digital smart boards that display real-time data. These are integrated with AI that can also determine cause and suggest ways to solve the problem.
  • Monitor and manage machinery in real-time.
  • Empower production to learn from their own mistakes and auto-adjust settings to improve day-to-day productivity.
  • Run diagnostics in real-time.


The bottom line


By the year 2030, Africa will have an impressive workforce. Pair this with a 4IR infrastructure and skills geared for innovation, and the 4IR holds massive potential for innovation across all labour, manufacture, and production industries. This will require job seekers to cultivate a particular set of skills and capabilities to work alongside this industry augmentation. Manufacturers can’t ignore these industry shifts and should be warned that if they do, they may well be left behind in this exciting, albeit highly competitive time.



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