Digitalising African factories

August 29, 2015

In Western Workd,digitalising manufacturing plans has helped companies to detect and resolve any challenges since its possible to monitor entire production process in real-time.According to Sub-Saharan Africa latest Purchasing Managers’ Index, factory output in has stagnated for the first six months of 2015. The manufacturing performance has also recorded lowered scores in components like output and suppliers’ delivery times in countries like Nigeria and South Africa. In spite of this, Sub Saharan Africa’s manufacturing sector has been and will continue to be a key driver of the continent’s economy, with its agricultural exports expected to increase 4% this year.For African countries to remain some of the top exporters to European region, it is imperative that countries digitise their current infrastructure.Although the production flexibility is important, production efficiency is just as vital to reduce time to markets like Europe and North America especially United States under AGOA partnership that was recently renewed by President Barack Obama. There is need for processes to be optimised so that African manufacturers can maintain a competitive edge over competitors in producing customised products more quickly.

With manufacturing centred on consumers, it has become necessary for supply chains to be highly flexible and optimised to shorten the product development process. To reap maximum benefits, the Kenyan government has been recommending that manufacturers adopt a holistic approach when digitising their workflows. There was an outcry by labor unions when tea companies in the country adopted digital machinery to increase efficiency and productivity.After doing so, two key functions emerged from the tea factories in Kenya and that was virtual production simulation and a tightly integrated system.They enable digital tea factories to reduce time to market and improve both production flexibility and efficiency.In a publication about digital factories I read recently, factories going digital allows for a standardised, integrated operating system based on consistent data management and uniform interfaces for hardware and software.That has long been the case in countries like Finland, Australia, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, United States and Japan among others.

In South Korea, automation components like controllers and motor management now function seamlessly in a single engineering environment, minimising engineering time that companies like Hyundai and KIA takes.In Japan, use of such technology means problems can be detected and resolved quickly as the entire production process is monitored in real-time. This way, Japanese manufacturers not only ramp up their production efficiency but also reduce time-to-market and that what brands like Toyota among the best selling in the world. A friend of mine working in a Tokyo based digital factory shared with me how digitalisation has enabled them simulation of virtual production lines, where the required type, volume and placement of machines for a new production process can be determined. Technically explaining, simulations of a new production line are built upon real-time data to closely resemble the physical world that we are all familiar with. When simulation predicts high success, the particular production design would have a potentially higher chance of swift implementation with minimal downtime.This also means that changing production lines is not only easier but also faster, and with lowered risks and thats the way for African countries to go.

Contador Harrison