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Industry 4.0: fears, opportunities in automated manufacturing

Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Mohammed Sani Haruna.

The Industry 4.0, often described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is powered by advancements that include smart manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). Like big data, it is the biggest change in manufacturing in more than 100 years. Are Nigerian local manufacturers ready for this big change? What do they fear, and how can such fears be turned around for competitive advantage? FEMI ADEKOYA writes.

The use of robotics in Nigerian manufacturing dates back to when robots were installed in car plants. Since then they have become commonplace in some industries, taking on roles that could previously only be carried out by human workers.

Presently, local assembly plants deploy the use of robots for some processes, while the Nigerian cement industry now deploys the use of robots to manage a part of its processes to ensure proper calibration of its machines so that products meet regulated standards.

In the United Kingdom, the use of robotics in manufacturing is dominated by the automotive industry, which has realised that to achieve the levels of consistency and productivity required, robotic body assembly and painting are a necessity. The automotive supply chain has heavily invested in robotics to support the demands of the automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Beyond this, there has been limited uptake, a fact held out by the International Federation of Robotics statistics on robot densities. Where countries such as Japan (213 per 10, 000 manufacturing employees), Germany (170) and Sweden (154) have embraced robotics, the UK lags far behind with only 33 robots per 10,000 employees.

Although not the complete answer, it is not surprising that countries that are investing heavily in robotics and automation are also among the most productive nations globally, while Nigeria continues to struggle to meet local demands and become globally competitive.

The Fears
APART from job losses, traditional models of investment in the country have relied on securing loans from banks or other institutions. These bodies generally require a guaranteed and relatively short return on investment. However, given that a robotic system should continue operating for many years, the return generated should be viewed in a longer time frame, and not in the narrow confines that have been previously applied.

Further to this, a key barrier for many organisations is the level of flexibility their manufacturing facility needs to accommodate rapid changes in products and mass customization. Traditionally, this has been a challenge for providers of robotic systems.

However, as technology developed, this is no longer the case. With the use of off-line programming, quick-change tool systems, sensing systems (often based on machine vision) and reconfigurable software architectures, adaptability can be easily built into robotic systems.

The Game Changer For Manufacturing
IN addition to prompting manufacturers to invest $267 billion in the IoT by 2020, Industry 4.0 is revolutionising manufacturing along five dimensions, namely; seeing around corners – in 360° (new tools are allowing companies to create and test situations in the virtual world, to simulate the design process and the assembly line before an actual product is created).

Secondly, it aids viewing the fourth wave – in 3D, which allows for the seamless creation of tangible products using a single machine. This is a fundamental change, because it gives you a lot more possibilities for how to design a part.

Thirdly, automation promotes advanced manufacturing – on autopilot as approximately 50 per cent of flex’s manufacturing processes are already fully automated. Automation enables a level of accuracy and productivity beyond human ability—even in environments that would be considered unsafe for humans.

Fourthly, automation aids building intelligent factories – in the cloud. In addition to robotics and virtual reality, factories environments’ are also driving advancements in cloud computing and smart sensors. Smart sensors can perform tasks such as converting data into different units of measurement, communicating with other machines, recording statistics and feedback and shutting off devices if a safety or performance issue arises.

Opportunities For Nigerian Manufacturers
ACCORDING to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), deploying a fast track approach of building industrial capabilities starts with an in-depth analysis of the relative strengths of domestic industries and key structural factors, and the various options for linking to domestic and foreign sources of technology and knowledge.

In essence, leveraging productivity gains from this approach assumes strategic decisions on the choice of needed technology, and on the specific means of knowledge acquisition. What is crucial for such a strategy to work is to address a variety of issues related to mechanisms of learning and mastery.

While stakeholders in the real sector are clamouring for increased protectionism, development agencies believe that participating in the production systems of global value chains (GVCs) and global production networks (GPNs) broadens the scope for getting gains from an open trade and investment regime, and thus diminishes pressures for protectionism.

Specifically, UNIDO noted that participating in GVCs can help producers in developing countries to enter foreign markets, earn more foreign currencies, diversify their exports, and most importantly to get new skills, knowledge and technology—all considered key factors for productivity enhancement and growth.

“Latecomer firms from developing countries can exploit the advantage of their late arrival to tap into new technologies, rather than having to reproduce the entire previous technological trajectory. They can accelerate their uptake and learning efforts, engaging in collective, purposive and directed efforts to use the relationships with foreign partners in GVCs and GPNs to get the right technology and knowledge, and to learn and create new capabilities, capturing the externalities of collective learning,” UNIDO stated.

Emphasising the need to embrace smart manufacturing, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) recently stated that the manufacturing sector in the country is not making the expected contribution to the GDP, while there is an inherent high level of importation.

For Nigeria to be ranked among the 20 richest countries by 2020, NASENI stated that the use of Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT) for economic prosperity is the way out.

“This is a paradigm shift from conventional manufacturing technology, for global competitiveness of industrial products, hence rapid industrial development. This mechanism for wealth generation could deliver the following results – increased industrial productivity to reduce importation of goods, equipment, raw materials and services that translate to increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Gross National Income per capita (GNI), and a reduction in the fleeing of foreign exchange; export of goods, equipment, raw materials and services that generate foreign exchange, while the combination of results one and two can generate value added employments with the capacity for living wages, as well as boost the performance of manufacturers,” NASENI explained.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) noted that the increasing importance of global production chain is reflected in the rising trade in intermediate inputs, which now represents more than half of the goods imported by OECD economies, and close to three-fourths of the imports of large developing economies, such as China and Brazil.

However, despite the rise of robots, they are still managed by humans. According to industry watchers, building a better manufacturing sector with augmented and virtual reality, robotics and data analysis using smart equipment naturally raise an important question, that is, what will the Industry 4.0 workforce look like?

According to the WEF, there will still be a need for people, who can manage new operations, manage the robots, programme them and maintain them.



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