Investment in automation services could be the key to boosting the growth of the manufacturing industry in South Africa. As a major contributor to the gross domestic product (GDP), the growth of the manufacturing sector will also bring benefits for South Africa’s economy.

While the industry is also a major employer and creator of jobs, automating manufacturing processes will improve product consistency and efficiency. Automation is the process of using machinery and assembly lines to produce products and components in any industry, also referred to as ‘Industry 4.0’.

Opportunities and challenges with automation

Automation does present huge opportunities for South Africa, according to Frikkie Streicher, the business development manager at the automation manufacturing business, Vega. This is especially true when it comes to cost-efficiency and output standards.

“Automation could address challenges across industries – boosting manufacturing production and reducing injuries on mines,” says Streicher. However, there are some concerns about the automation process and its impact on jobs.

“There are concerns about South Africa’s political landscape, concerns about potential job losses and their impact on labour forces, and infrastructure challenges. Large-scale investment in smart manufacturing won’t take place in an environment not perceived to be stable,” explains Streicher.

“South Africa needs to simultaneously create a stable landscape for investors, build out critical infrastructure and get our workforces up to speed to become globally competitive,” he states.

Building a world-class industry

Manufacturers in South Africa already export many of their products to all regions of the world. Automating processes can only improve the quality and consistency of these products, but the country also needs to consider transformation in its goals.

“We can put down intelligent sensors and cloud technologies, but unless a manufacturer is embracing world-class manufacturing models, eliminating waste and driving value flow, Industry 4.0 tools and technologies will not be truly transformative,” suggests Dave Wibberley, the managing director of Adroit Technologies.

While South Africa’s overall economic growth was reported to be 0.8% at the end of 2018, there are positive signs coming from the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing output increased by 1.6% in 2018 as compared to 2017. This growth will benefit the economy and will be spurred on by investment in automation. 

Formex Industries is a metal forming and assembly company that supplies a variety of complex products to the local automotive industry and export market. The company is based in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropole, South Africa’s foremost region for automotive manufacturing and export.

Formex specialises in producing components for the catalytic converter industry, as well as metal components and assemblies for the various vehicles. Formex aims to become one of the foremost suppliers for the South African automotive industry by 2035, aligning itself with the South African Automotive Masterplan (SAAM) which takes effect in 2020.

Formex is a Level 2 B-BBEE supplier with over 80% black ownership, of which more than 40% are black women. The company is owned by Deneb Investments Limited – a subsidiary of Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited (HCI) – one of South Africa’s biggest true B-BBEE companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

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