Many roads, one destination: The digitisation of industry

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South Africa can’t afford to be left behind in the worldwide migration to Industry 4.0. Rockwell Automation Sub-Saharan Africa Managing Director Henry Craukamp discusses some of the concerns facing our industries in 2019 in this opinion piece on industrial digitisation.

Industry 4.0 and the 4th Industrial Revolution have been amongst the biggest buzzwords in industry for many years now. Now is the time to put plans in place to help organisations embrace and adopt this digital transformation of their traditional manufacturing and production methodologies.The merging of the physical and the virtual world in industry is creating new cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs), where a multitude of smart machines communicate with each other in real time, sharing production data, machine performance, potential systems errors, current stock level, order inventories, and so forth.

Such smart manufacturing is a growing requirement for industries to remain competitive across global markets, while also enabling us to meet increasing demands for a whole range of goods amongst a growing world population, from pharmaceutical products, food and beverages to the demand for natural resources.While across the world, digitalisation is some way off from realising even a moderate level of its potential in industry – with even highly industrialised economies such as the USA estimated to have reached between just 15-20% of its potential – enterprises that have digitised their production are setting the benchmark for new standards of productivity, quality, reliability and agility.

Conversely, organisations that delay this production journey stand the risk of ultimately being left behind. As the industry collective, we need to do all that we can to ensure steps are taken to secure our manufacturing base for the future.In a country like South Africa – which in this respect is more follower than leader in this world-wide digital migration – should our industry and manufacturing sector not be ready for Industry 4.0, the end result will be further job losses, as markets and opportunities will be lost to foreign competitors reaping the rewards of these new technologies.

Yet we also have several advantages over more developed economies, such as new communication infrastructures as well as a predominantly young, tech-savvy population that is capable of being early adopters of technology. So why have industry and the manufacturing sector not been faster to adapt? With the requirements for ‘big data’ produced by CPPSs to be analysed to realise a smart manufacturing environment, there is a fear that establishing, retrieving and processing this data is a very expensive investment.The truth though is that modern automation systems already comprise Industry 4.0-ready products and technologies; the challenge is to mobilise this data into actionable intelligence platforms, even if this is at an individual process level. By starting small, we can scale companies’ migrations to Industry 4.0 through a journey that matches customers’ capital and operational requirements.

There is also the very real fear that with greater connectivity comes the increased risk of cybersecurity threats. From bad-actor hackers to unintentional human error on the plant floor, security events can have a severe, debilitating impact on network availability, interrupt operations and halt productivity. These fears are well founded, and cybersecurity is an essential consideration of the Industry 4.0 framework, and needs to be built in across the IT/OT environment through a multi-layered, defence-in-depth control approach. Rockwell Automation understands the evolving industry challenges confronting global manufacturers, because we are one, and have walked this journey for over a decade with our vision and implementation of the Connected Enterprise.

Like many industrial and manufacturing companies, Rockwell Automation has a diverse product portfolio, with plants with a variety of manufacturing processes spread across the globe producing complicated machines and equipment. Integrating information across IT and control systems, and from the plant floor to the enterprise, has supported our ability to produce made-to-stock, engineered-to-order and configured-to-order solutions faster, more reliably, and with greater consistency.

Together with innovations like the Internet of Things, network convergence, cloud computing, big data and analytics, virtualisation and mobility are resulting in a new inflection point for how manufacturing and industrial organisation and their assets operate.

With a vision and the knowledge of what is required to migrate a global, high-tech network of manufacturing plants and operations to Industry 4.0, Rockwell Automation is helping customers across industries make their digitisation journeys simpler, safer and more cost effective. It’s a journey we make together.

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