Kathy Gibson is at the Deloitte Risk Conference in Sandton – When it comes to enabling Industry 4.0, the state has a major role to play, and we could learn from how Singapore has turned itself into a knowledge economy, attracting new manufacturing opportunities.

“For us, if we are not ahead of the curve we will not only be swamped but, as a nation, there is a good chance we will become totally irrelevant,” explains Rahul Ghosh, regional director: Africa of IE Singapore.

“For government, this has become urgent. So the stance has been to embrace disruption and use it to essentially transform the whole country -the economy, industry, society and the nation.

“Our target is that, by 2025, we will have become a smart nation.”

All the technologies and buzzwords go under that ambit, Ghosh says.

This means policies have to be changed, and embraced by all parts of society.

At the industry level, organisations have to be productive; and enterprises need to be creating value.

“At a worker level it is important that we are developing and building the skills of workers so they can take on new jobs.

“Importantly, we are creating workers who are not just 4.0, but are themselves creating the fourth industrial revolution.”

In South Africa, we are taking Industry 4.0 very seriously, says Martin Sanne, executive director: materials science and manufacturing at CSIR.

“We are creating the platform for Industry 4.0.”

The challenge is translating theoretical elements of Industry 4.0 into real action, Sanne says.

The CSIR presented a parliamentary paper on Industry 4.0, breaking it down into three elements: optimisation; transformation; and innovation.

During optimisation and transformation, the business models will probably stay the same, Sanne says: in the innovation phase you want to change your business models.

“We tell people to look at their business models, look at their digital readiness and optimise what can be optimised; then look at what needs to be transformed; and then innovation can kick in.

To move forward, Sanne believes South Africa needs to focus on the issue of energy, and renewable energy in particular.

The cost of renewable energy is coming down dramatically, he points out – hitting as low as 2 US cents in some countries. In South Africa, the renewable independent power producers (IPPs) are currently about 70 cents per kilowatt hour compared to about R1,20 for coal.

“Industry 4.0 is about digitalisation, but it is also about electric everything – everything will be driven by electricity,” Sanne says. “If you start with renewable energy and you solve a lot of other problems.”

Plentiful, inexpensive power can also help to solve the water crisis. It can make it possible to cost-effectively power desalination plants, while water can be re-used at source.

“And this, in turn, helps to solve the food problem,” Sanne points out.

In Singapore, manufacturing accounts for about 20% of the economy, and employs about 17% of the workforce.

The approach to manufacturing was to consult and understand how to collaborate in order to transform.

Each industry has come up with a broad roadmap for where it wants to be by 2025. “So everyone is on board,” Ghosh says.

The next step was to create a common language around Industry 4.0. “There are many different definitions, so we have created a smart industry readiness index. Any manufacturing enterprise can understand where they are, then talk to partners about how to get to the gold standard.

“And we have a common definition for the gold standard as well,” Ghosh explains. “You have to understand where you are, and the language of Industry 4.0.”

The government has also created open platforms, or collaborative communities.

Some of these are technology labs, or model factories, designed for either learning or imagining the future.

“In the factories of the future we are collaborating with big companies, encouraging them to bring their concept of the factory of the future to Singapore. What we do is bring additional collaborators – technology companies, SMEs, business community, research institutions and institutions of higher learning.

“The manufacturing companies are giving a realtime problem statement as they establish the factory of the future, and we are collaborating on solving these problems,” Ghosh explains.

“Whatever is being created in those factories of the future – in terms of the solutions – we try to make it as humanistic as possible. We want to simplify the solutions so that any company or SME can take it off the shelf and plug it into their own factories.”

The ecosystems include people with needs, people who can solve the problems, and a community that can use it, Ghosh point outs.

A Tech Depot is a repository of all these solutions, which SMEs can use them as needed.

Industry 4.0 inevitably leads to job displacement, so Singapore is investing in lifelong learning.

“Today, education is front-end loaded – but once you are in a job you are on your own. As a government, we have decided we need to make investments along the career of people so they can pick up new and relevant skills as they go along.”

As a manufacturing economy, Germany is seeing massive changes driven by Industry 4.0.

“As manufacturers, Bosch is convinced that if we don’t manage the change we won’t survive,” says Yves Nono, vice-president: mobility solutions sales region Africa at Robert Bosch.

In the cyber space, he says there are two issues that are relevant : Internet of Things (IoT) and digitalisation.

“You have to figure out what is important to the business, then you can understand how to use it,” Nono points out.

“It is not about throwing away what you have. It’s about how components are going to communicate in future, and what level of intelligence they will need.”