The Southern African Metals and Engineering (M&E) Indaba took place in mid-September in Sandton, Johannesburg. One of the major topics of discussion at the indaba was Industry 4.0 – how the power of the internet and connectivity will shape the future of the manufacturing and engineering industries. 

This will directly affect automotive component manufacturers, like Formex Industries, and their ability to attract business from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers from around the world.

The M&E Indaba was organised by the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) and this was the fifth annual event to take place. It was aimed at addressing current issues facing the manufacturing and engineering sectors. The M&E Indaba highlighted how the South African industries can progress in the age of technology.

A number of keynote speakers attended this year’s event, including Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) chief executive officer Dr Thulani Dlamini, National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (NAAMSA) director Mike Mabasa and National Association of Automotive Components and Allied Manufacturers (NAACAM) executive director Renai Moothilal.

Manufacturing sector needs to embrace Industry 4.0

These leaders of the national government, business, unions and stakeholders presented their arguments for ways to grow the automotive manufacturing industry. Minister Ebrahim Patel directed the discussion on automotive production and its need to embrace Industry 4.0 – a point that is supported by SEIFSA chief executive officer Kaizer Nyatsumba. 

There is a need for [manufacturers] to be technologically advanced. For example, it is very easy for steel and other products manufactured in Asia, especially China, to land here cheaply because of this,” explains Nyatsumba. However, he also notes that these Asian countries are not as labour-intensive as South Africa, therefore it is easier for them to embrace the latest technologies.

The South African manufacturing and engineering sectors still rely heavily on manual labour. While this boosts employment for the country, it also increases the production costs of automotive components. This creates an avenue for foreign parts to be imported at a similar price to local products.

Industry 4.0 can boost productivity and upskill employees

There is a middle ground to be found where embracing Industry 4.0 can boost productivity and reduce manufacturing costs without threatening jobs. Nyatsumba states that Industry 4.0 can be used to improve the country’s global competitiveness. “If we are going to compete internationally as the M&E and the South African manufacturing sector, we need to embrace Industry 4.0,” he says.

Gearing the manufacturing sector towards the latest technologies will require capital investment and training. This, in itself, can create new job opportunities for South Africans working in the industry. Automation can aid the growth of the sector and reduce the need for imported products. “We need to produce steel domestically and cost-efficiently. This is really in the best interests of economic growth from an infrastructure perspective,” says Nyatsumba.

“If our members move towards automation, it would be effective in increasing production so that there is a constant supply of their products,” says SEIFSA industrial relations and legal services executive Sibusiso Mthenjana. “Our intention is to present a compelling workshop to assist them in upskilling their employees to take the new opportunities. Industry 4.0 moves them away from the shop floor to other avenues,” he explains.

Employees will need to be upskilled and trained in how to run these technologies. They can also learn how to become service providers and mechanics to keep the automation equipment running efficiently. This unlocks entirely new subsectors of the industry and supports economic development.

Mthenjana reveals that SEIFSA will host numerous training courses that will gear employees towards Industry 4.0 and to address the current challenges that the sector faces. These courses will run according to a schedule that will be announced soon. Industry 4.0 presents many opportunities for manufacturers, especially in the automotive sector. The need to embrace new technology is urgent in South Africa and it will help to advance the industry and make it more globally competitive.

Formex Industries is a metal forming and assembly company that supplies a variety of complex products to the local automotive industry and the 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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