The only way for small and large companies to become and remain globally competitive in advanced manufacturing supply chains is to embrace the latest technologies and processes that are available, says machined components manufacturer Daliff Precision Engineering chairperson Rowland Chute.
However, modern manufacturing technology is only the starting point for adopting an advanced manufacturing strategy that focuses on improving each independent aspect and the overall system, he emphasises.
Daliff is a local small enterprise supplying machined components into global aerospace manufacturer Airbus’s supply chain, as well as to other multinational original-equipment manufacturers in the energy and rail sectors. It has adopted a technology strategy it calls the Industry 4.0 strategy.
Producing machined components that are globally competitive requires that several different processes and operations are individually optimally configured, while the overall system also has to be optimised, he says.
“The basis of the improvement was to establish the technology gap between our current processes or equipment and international standards and then develop a strategy to close the gap.”
The analysis revealed that it was not Daliff’s computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, but its support structures, from quoting and scheduling to quality control, which should be prioritised. Immediate improvements ranged from new software to cutter technology.
However, the major improvement arose not from closing the gaps in support areas but from connecting the CNC machines to a digital system, which enabled the real-time analysis of significant operating data. Over time, this database will provide information identifying where future improvements are required, explains Chute.
“Aside from the connected CNC machines and analytical software, the rest of the improvements were not overly high-technology or innovative. “Bringing together all the different elements and fine-tuning them into a functioning ecosystem designed to deliver globally competitive machined components is an important element of Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing.”
However, regardless of the quality and efficiency of an industrial company’s operations, the company must generate sufficient free cashflow at a level where the company can invest in the resources required to be competitive in the advanced manufacturing space.
“Developing this critical mass is often quite difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises, as the opportunities locally are limited, while entering the international market takes time and marketing is costly and difficult.”
There are significant differences in the profitability of a factory running one, two or three shifts, and this, consequently, affects its ability to produce competitively priced products. In South Africa, however, many manufacturers cannot run close to full capacity and, therefore, cannot gain the pricing flexibility from this strategy.
As a result, South African manufacturers are often deemed expensive, despite the issue not being the underlying cost structure, but the volume’s involved.Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor