South Africa’s manufacturing industry has to keep evolving to remain competitive in the face of global competition in recent years. While there has been a longstanding battle between effectively producing products against demand and maintaining a sustainable cost base, a key modern day challenge remains — the reality that agile manufacturing is becoming more cumbersome to implement, according to PwC.

However, the majority of the common challenges faced by manufacturing organisations today can be addressed or assisted by the use of technology.

While digital concepts have a valuable role to play in manufacturing processes, Manufacturing Excellence programmes remain imperative. Manufacturing Excellence can be understood as the overarching improvement programmes that businesses deploy to extract value. When it comes to transforming manufacturing operations using traditional methods, several concerns have come to the fore. They include: 

Vinesh Maharaj, PwC SA Smart Manufacturing Lead, says: “This forces manufacturers to think about how to orchestrate all these moving parts while still maintaining a balanced production environment.” 

However the gap that exists today is centred around amalgamating the more traditional methods of manufacturing with the digital way of doing things. PwC South Africa’s newly-launched Manufacturing Excellence 4.0 thought leadership unpacks this relationship. It details how the ideas of Manufacturing Excellence are evolving in the new digital world, and how the search for efficiency is no longer only a human problem. 

‘Factory blindness’

In order to remain globally competitive and uphold a high Manufacturing Excellence maturity level, manufacturers have to remain lean, fit and ready to react in the best possible way to meet targets. Vinesh says many manufacturing facilities exhibit a low manufacturing maturity, where old ways of working progressively evolve. The lack of step changes in manufacturing maturity may result in South African companies gradually falling behind its global peers and eventually risk obsolescence. 

Factory blindness describes the normality that is felt by factory workers in their daily routines, disabling them from seeing an environment that is out of order or that needs improvement. This phenomenon typically occurs when workers have been conducting the same routine activities for many years and have become resistant to adapting them to become more efficient and effective.

“There seems to be an inert comfortability that is associated with conducting activities the way that it has always been done,” adds Vinesh. “This makes organisations blind to the fact that there are improved, safer and more efficient ways of working in your factory.”

Lack of action and visibility 

There are significant benefits to optimising and uncovering the hidden truths of your plant, with the process of gaining visibility being top of mind for most manufacturing executives. “The interesting part about creating visibility and uncovering the actual performance of a plant is that a common truth is created and less valuable time is spent on the mundane activities that go along with formulating this image,” Vinesh explains. 

There are benefits to blending traditional programmes with digital systems. Daniel Reddy, PwC SA Smart Manufacturing Senior Manager, says: “At the end of the day, any improvement initiative needs to deliver tangible value to the customer. This is generally viewed as a method to either develop the value proposition through enhanced services or a reduction in cost.” He adds that the objective here is to induce a culture of measurement using digital tools that sustains the business’ ability to innovate against a quality fitting function.

Challenges with traditional programmes

Organisations can experience various challenges while trying to implement Manufacturing Excellence programmes. From a lack of training and support from leadership, to fear of redundancy and realising that the digital journey is an ongoing one, our report addresses these concerns. 

Daniel says: “Introducing digital tools will help mitigate these common challenges. There is always an inherent risk that the use of technology can hamper or even exacerbate these issues, however when technology is applied in conjunction with strong cultural and process efficiency fundamentals, it can be used to ease the transition to a culture of continuous improvement.” 

“We invite you to read our 2023 Manufacturing Excellence 4.0 thought leadership, which unpacks why this need is stronger than ever in the South African context.” Daniel concludes: “It is imperative that manufacturers understand their maturity to chart a course to performance excellence, and realise that the effort required to institute these changes and optimise these processes has been reduced significantly with the introduction of digital tools.”

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