Why Industry 4.0 is essential for our rebound strategy

By Phyllis Wakiaga,

Before COVID-19, the world was positioning itself for the 4th Industrial Revolution. Industry 4.0 is now more pertinent than ever before, due to the impact of the crisis.

Previous industrial revolutions were inspired by the need to fulfil upcoming needs – mass production and high-speed, and bulk movement of people and goods. The necessity for these drove people to imagine, inspire and innovate. This led to mechanized processes in various fields, including agriculture, transport and manufacturing.

The benefits of the Industrial Revolutions were tremendous! The improvements led to higher standards of living which brought about a longer life expectancy, as a result of enhanced food production, better housing and increased access to clothing and consumer goods due to reduced prices.

This is similar to the current pandemic, which has resulted in profound change. It is causing radical shifts globally as we all comply with the measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus. COVID-19 has hastened several trends, including local sourcing and innovation as manufacturers change their lines to produce critical essential items to be used in the fight against COVID-19, for example masks and ventilators.

Disruptions in the global supply chain have also caused a spike in the demand for medical equipment and other supplies as countries now have to depend on their local industries. Industry 4.0 has the potential to fill these gaps by ensuring continuity, reducing costs while increasing output.

At the moment, industries are struggling to stay afloat. As we work towards rebound strategies, we need to develop structures that work for the economy in the presence or absence of a crisis. The manufacturing sector has continued to develop solutions to keep the economy moving, such as ensuring that there is no shortage of supplies and partnering with the government to develop rebound strategies.

Automation of systems is one of the strategies of staying in business and a launching pad for rebound. This is because if embraced, it shall enable continuity and provide a platform to further make businesses resilient, both in the medium and long terms.

To stay competitive, this is the best time for manufacturers to embrace the 4th Industrial Revolution. How we respond to the COVID-19 outbreak will ultimately demonstrate our resilience. While the current crisis is a constantly changing situation, we are forced to rethink our operations, including swiftly embracing technological investments in our value chain – from raw materials to finished products.

Adopting automation shall enable us to enjoy the benefits of Industry 4.0, which include increased efficiency, enhanced productivity, flexibility, costs reduction, innovation, higher revenues and eventually, increased profitability.

We must make bold decisions to survive this pandemic and rebound thereafter. This means a more concerted and widespread move to automate as much of operations as possible and employ efficient technologies to optimize production and minimize downtime.

Critical for this is policies that promote the uptake of digitization in the country. In 2018, Kenya Association of Manufacturers and Overseas Development Institute developed a ten-point policy agenda for a successful digital transformation of Kenyan manufacturing titled, ‘How to grow manufacturing and create jobs in a digital economy: 10 policy priorities for Kenya’.

The plan addresses issues related to building digital infrastructure including through increasing access to digital services and updating policies on data, boosting competitiveness of Kenyan manufacturing in an increasingly digitalised economy and managing the digital change in an inclusive and sustainable manner. It calls on the government to better prepare for the future by providing financial and policy support to help manufacturers access and take advantage of ICT technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic should inspire us to strongly consider and hasten our taking up of Industry 4.0. Digital workflows and automation should no longer be goals but requirements. Only the most astute businesses will take advantage of Industry 4.0’s full potential.

The Writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Kenya Chapter Board Chair. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke.

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