Equipped for Industry 4.0

Business organisations are expected to stay a step ahead of change in order to remain competitive and relevant in their markets. The business of the future needs to be at the forefront of innovation, deliberately deploying next-generation technologies like the internet of things (IoT), machine learning and robotics to increase productivity levels, maximise output and turn a profit.

The South African economy is laden with challenges such as poor economic growth, negative financial forecasts, and lack of accessibility to funding and new technology. But in light of the recent changing of the guard, South Africa is now officially open for business. The economy is expected to be reinvigorated by much-needed foreign investment and business-orientated policies, with the hope of being an active participant in Industry 4.0, and of riding the new wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution before it crests.

In the stainless steel sector, international import tariffs and competition from cheap imports continue to hinder domestic output, productivity and business growth. But it’s only a matter of time before disruptions stemming from technology shake up various sectors. Right now, the demand for innovative and sustainable solutions is increasing. New-to-market applications featuring the latest technology are creating surges in demand for sustainable and quality materials. Due to its low life-cycle costs and non-corrosive properties, stainless steel is becoming the popular choice for new applications across an array of industries. The alloy also ticks the boxes for safety and practicality – so much so that European stainless steel producer, Aperam, developed an award-winning innovation of domed stainless steel sheaths to seal off the ruins of the volatile Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor. Similar requirements are being made closer to home – National Stainless Steel Centre was commissioned to produce a water pressure vessel for firefighting equipment in the petrochemical industry. The high tolerance for heat and corrosion resistance make stainless steel ideal for this application. Furthermore, a leading automotive manufacturer required specific gutters for its plant. National Stainless Steel Centre’s state-of-the-art processing facility, along with its specialised expertise, enabled the efficient production and delivery of these customised stainless steel gutters. With the ability to satisfy environmental, safety and aesthetic requirements, such solutions are shaping an exponentially changing world.

Considering potential disruptions from automation and digitisation, the challenge of the business of the future will be to seamlessly integrate new technology and specialised skills. Harnessing technology like machine learning and robotics alone won’t guarantee peak performance. In fact, these transformative technologies will have a detrimental impact on workforces, to the extent that certain employees’ skills may become obsolete. But without specialised skills and expertise, manufacturers will fail to achieve objectives and profit margins. It is critical to empower and upskill employees so that they can be equipped to interact with all-new technology, and to interpret information and data for decision-making.

As much as National Stainless Steel Centre is a powerhouse of precision, we also like to think of ourselves as a hub for skills development. Our people are our greatest asset; that’s why continuous investment in our staff is high on our agenda. Invaluable training initiatives enable us to attract, retain and develop the best talent in industry, while our in-house training and development centre, as well as our apprenticeship programme for student boilermakers, facilitate the development of employees and prospective artisans. The aspirations and dreams of employees and apprentices remain paramount to National Stainless Steel Centre’s success.