Connecting everyday physical objects to the internet and ensuring these can “talk” in the cloud may sound like something best left to science fiction writers. However, when you strip away the noise around machine-learning, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution, it becomes clear that an array of exciting opportunities for businesses and industries are on our doorstep in 2020.
The secret to success will be ensuring this data is harnessed so that a valuable action can be performed to benefit consumers, businesses and communities. The potential of this cutting-edge technology to lift under-performing labour-intensive industries such as manufacturing and mining in South Africa is immense. And as will be shown below, it also a total misnomer that this needs to cost jobs.
The mining industry, for instance, has an opportunity to improve efficiencies and reduce input costs by deploying IoT solutions not only in its operations, but throughout the value chain. While technology is an integral part of mining operations and remains a salient feature on the factory floor, IoT can take things a bit further by being deployed to do proactive and preventative maintenance. IoT technology can be rolled out to proactively monitor the robots, their inner workings and performance levels. The data that is collected can, with a fair degree of accuracy, predict when the robot is likely going to fail.
Currently maintenance is reactive in nature and grinds production to a halt when machines break down while the technician troubleshoots and repairs the equipment. This takes a toll on productivity on an already stretched industry.
Mining operations are very costly, particularly in South Africa which has some of the deepest mines in the world. Data tracked by the Minerals Council of South Africa between 2013 and 2017 shows that input costs have been rising at a faster pace than selling prices – affecting profit margins and employment.
IoT solutions can, however, help to unlock and scale up beneficiation, which is a secondary industry that can be optimally used to integrate the workforce that has been displaced by automation.
The supply chain remains one of the areas that account for spiralling costs. IoT can help to mitigate against these input costs through introducing “just in time” functionality which will obviate the need to invest a lot of capital building up inventories. IoT can help with measuring, monitoring inventories and send alerts when inventory stock runs low. IoT can therefore help mining companies to sweat their assets and assist in saving on breakdowns, maintenance and replacements.
Automation of the production processes through the deployment of IoT solutions will free up the workforce that was doing repetitive work to venture into creative fields and beneficiation. This is the key issue we need to consider particularly among the youth considering the high unemployment facing South Africa.
While greater buy-in is needed from government, business, workers and unions, MTN is not standing still in opening access to IoT opportunities. We have embarked on a massive network modernization programme that will see every site on our expansive network footprint enabled with narrow band IoT capabilities, which supports extensive coverage at low power consumption.
MTN sees the combination of device, cloud, network and services as a powerful opportunity for many sectors in SA in the year ahead, with ongoing access to reliable data and innovation the critical ingredients to success.
However, we need to harness these solutions today to maximise efficiencies and opportunities to solve local problems.