Microsoft has tipped Africa for an industrial revolution once the continent develops its value-added manufacturing sector. From government to the private sector and academia, the continent’s growth rests on manufacturing to help the continent grow and continue to support a rising population and growing middle class.
Amr Kamel, Microsoft’s General Manager for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Oceans Islands, notes that in 2014 30% of China’s GDP came from manufacturing, according to the World Bank, while comparatively, Nigeria’s GDP from manufacturing was just 9%, Kenya 12 % and Zambia at 8%.
“Africa is also at a crossroads. With a global focus on mitigating the effects of climate change and drastically reducing our carbon footprint, the world is on a mission to make the manufacturing industry cleaner, greener and more sustainable,” says Kamel.
He adds that traditionally, the heavy reliance on energy resources, infrastructural gaps and a skills and productivity shortage, has undermined the global competitiveness of Africa`s industrial sector.
“By leapfrogging to Industry 4.0, Africa can take advantage of greener, more productive technologies without being encumbered by outdated, energy and labour intensive processes. By leapfrogging, Africa will be closer to achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, and meaningful employment while safeguarding its natural assets,” he adds.
Kamel also notes that Africa’s manufacturers can achieve this by using big data to grow the continent’s manufacturing industry. Most manufacturers generate a huge amount of information, from the sourcing of materials to the marketing and distribution chain. Each of these functions has countless moving parts, both on the production line and off. Understanding and utilising all this data efficiently has become paramount in today’s age of information.
The Microsoft executive says that a revolution in manufacturing can be secured through:
Slashing costs: For most manufacturers, energy is the first or second highest cost (after labour). By using data, companies can make demand-driven decisions, for example running equipment in conjunction with fluctuations in consumer demand, to save energy.
Extending use cycles: Intelligence provided by IoT and big data provides predictive maintenance, which can keep equipment functioning optimally. By keeping machines in use for a longer period it reduces the need for new ones to be manufactured – lowering impact on the environment and saving costs.
Increasing efficiency: In addition to reducing downtime, new technologies make factories more efficient and save power. Data can also track labour output, for example managing shifts optimally to increase productivity.
Reducing waste and emissions – Technologies like IoT reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain by tracking and managing energy use.
Workforce optimisation: Companies can use data to balance workforce requirements. Reduced overtime expense can be a major source of savings.
Product inventory: Keeping product inventory for a long period of time comes at a cost. Manufacturers need to consider the cost of storage, any necessary insurance, maintenance and other factors. Whenever possible, manufacturers will benefit from nimble and responsive manufacturing operations to avoid overproduction.
Product supply chains: Smart manufacturing will shift supply chains. There is a so-called “makers movement”, where companies are choosing local suppliers, connecting them with demand both close and far from home. It promises a more efficient form of production, and more sustainable processes where resources are re-used. For example, where bio-waste is used for feedstock or fed back into the production process. This leads to a circular economy, which brings the efficiency that is at the heart of smart manufacturing.
On turning Africa’s challenges into opportunities, he adds that the path towards green industrialisation on the continent can only be paved by the adoption of a combination of investment in innovative technologies, skills training, and the willingness to implement policies that identify green industrialisation as the backbone of the continent’s socioeconomic transformation.
Africa has proven its capacity to leapfrog. The world’s most ground-breaking mobile innovations come from the continent because of this ability. With bold leadership, we can do it again, and become a leader in Industry 4.0.