Africa: Advanced manufacturing is fast changing the future of manufacturing.

Apr 21, 2016

More than 80 years ago an economist,  John Maynard, predicted a new disease he called ‘technological unemployment’, caused by the discovery of new technologies that would be used to perform tasks traditionally performed by hand or old machines.

                         

Advanced manufacturing isn’t often discussed in Africa  as yet, but is set to profoundly change the way factories operate.

In traditional manufacturing,  many parts are built separately to form one part or product. For example,  look at the conveyer belt manufacturing system created by Henry Ford in 1913.  It required a worker to repeat one specific task throughout the day, making  the same small component that would be merged with other components to form  the final product.

Advanced manufacturing is using  innovative technologies, referred to as disruptive technologies, to improve  traditional products or processes. A part that traditionally needed several  components can now be designed on screen and printed out to the exact  specifications needed using a 3-D printer. The world is moving into an era  where manufacturing is evolving to the point where technological advancements  and improvements will come from the machines and systems themselves through  predictive analytics, advanced control and smarter systems.

How will  it impact jobs?

Change on this scale makes many  worry about the sustainability of their own jobs. For example, mass picking  techniques transformed agriculture, automation of assembly lines transformed  automotive and textiles and, the internet age transformed industries, specifically  the way we work and communicate with each other. Although many economists and  pundits see advanced manufacturing as a threat to jobs, the transformation also  creates opportunities for more strategic and creative skills, particularly  for those who have the expertise to service or maintain moving parts.

While disruptive technology  advances individual labour skills, it also stimulates the broader economy. In  agriculture, for instance, the automation of crop reaping allowed farmers to  produce products faster and more efficiently, leading to a drop in the price  of food and allowing consumers to use their savings to buy other manufactured  goods.

And its  impact on the supply chain?

The flexibility of new systems  makes it easier for suppliers to react quickly to urgent situations by  automatically adjusting and responding. Disruptive technologies have the ability  to predict a customers’ needs and allow manufacturers to be able to manufacture  custom products at the speed dictated by the customer. Consumer needs will be  met at a faster pace. A customer can walk into a store, request a products and,  a tech savvy consultant can print it in real-time via 3-D printing if it’s  not available in store.

What does this mean for Africa?

Advanced manufacturing  technologies can rapidly change the nature of the African economy by  improving the speed of product manufacturing and creating alternative skilled  employment opportunities. Governments will have to adapt education systems to  increase investments in mathematics and science as the increase of advanced  manufacturing will result in the decreased demand of lower skills factory  jobs.

What can  be done to prepare the workforce?

Research from the World Economic  Forum found that over five million jobs could be  lost by 2020  as a result of the discovery of different technologies, but they also  predicted that two million jobs will be created and of that, 65% will be in  careers that are not yet invented.

GE’s Innovation Barometer found  that innovators across the globe do not feel their  education system is prepared to answer the future skills challenge. Many of the  workforce challenges can be addressed by encouraging today’s youth to take up  Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. Advanced  manufacturing firms also need to work alongside educators to establish  curriculums that align the skills that students are learning in schools with  the skills businesses will demand.

Governments, educators and the  private sector also need to provide the relevant education to those whose  jobs may be transitioned by technology. But workers also need to adapt their  skills to capitalise on these new opportunities.

 

- GE Reports

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