Connectivity deepens operators’ understanding of events and sharpens decision-making at Pressure Die Castings

Adopting the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to become a Smart Factory has long been part of the company’s culture. However, the challenge for industry in South Africa in the future is educating and getting employees to adopt and understand the technology. New skill sets will be required in design, operation as well as other elements of the production and supply chain.

In our everyday lives we are becoming increasingly reliant on technology both in the work environment and in our private space. Whereas before our cell phone connected us to family and friends where there was no landline infrastructure, smartphones are now keeping us connected in more ways than one. This includes voicing our opinion on social media, being able to save photographs and documents to the cloud to share with others, remotely connect to the office, stream music or films, watch live TV and many other features that our grandparents and, in some cases still our parents, could not foresee or comprehend. The smartphone is not the only device able to keep us connected. There are many others and all you need is an affordable Internet connection.

As smartphone access increases across South Africa and the transferring of data increases, the reliance on the Internet increases. Experts say that in 2017 there were about 29 million smartphones in use in South Africa but only 21 million Internet users, which tells us a quarter of the smartphone user base in South Africa cannot afford data. Others say there are 18.48 million users and this is expected to reach over 25 million by 2022. According to GSMA-I, South Africa is the second biggest mobile market in Africa after Nigeria but has a far higher mobile penetration rate than the west-African nation. As of 2016, South Africa has 37.5 million unique mobile subscribers, a 68% penetration rate, compared to Nigeria’s 86 million mobile subscribers, representing 45% of the population.

Whichever figures you use, there are plenty of users relying on state-of-the-art technology with one important link – the Internet. The high speed Internet of today is allowing a lot more data to be transferred remotely and giving us much more control over various aspects of our lives, and this is where industry will start to see massive leaps forward in the workplace.

Businesses are starting to utilise this connectivity in many ways, from automatic material ordering through to cloud-based software control. The premise behind Industry 4.0 is to take this one step further by connecting not just one machine but also the whole factory so it communicates as one entity.

To achieve this there is one more key element needed – the Industrial Internet of Things – and this boils down to creating smart devices/machines that communicate with each other and the outside world.

The challenge of IoT and connectivity skills is looming large for companies wanting to implement the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and Artificial Intelligence to become a Smart Factory
“We have long been a friend of automation and the use of devices and software for data interpretation, to improve productivity and quality and the bottom line. One of our key technology drivers of late has been the installation of robotics, taken up mainly in labour intensive areas, to remove human error and increase throughput rates without any quality issues. However, the opportunities with the use of robotic implementation, is only one aspect of the equation of product delivery. There are many others to consider,” says Pressure Die Castings (PDC) managing director Mike Wolhuter.

“We have also invested in the latest technology used in our production and service areas, added new processes that we can offer such as our chrome plating plant, employed a number of smart and innovative engineers who are constantly working on important areas such as energy savings and process design improvements and in training our staff.”

“Pressure Die Castings employs 300 people at our Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal manufacturing site producing components and products for the automotive sector as well as the building, plumbing and electrical industries and components used in fire-protection systems across the world. We are a proud exporter and 50% of our revenues are derived from our international customers.”

“In order to drive continuous improvement and enhance our competitive edge, we believe that PDC was one of the early adopters of the principles embraced in Industry 4.0. Data measurement and analytics are key to future success of any company but with it comes disruption.”

“The proliferation of smarter end points, data collection, scalable computing, mobility and visualisation are reshaping the future of industrial automation. Industry 4.0 solutions help to better gather and analyse data, and transform it into actionable, real-time insightful information. This supports the connection of global operations to the enterprise and extended business systems, allowing for better collaboration, faster problem-solving and improved innovation. Equipment and devices become intelligent assets capable of reporting a wealth of production information including diagnostics and energy. Having this knowledge enables faster and better business decisions that can help increase productivity, improve quality and help to meet demand more precisely and cost-effectively.”

“However, with these rapid advancements in technology come new demands on the workforce. It takes a skillset to enable IT/OT convergence and to take advantage of the potential in an industrial context. To get the benefits of Industry 4.0, technology and operations roles that have long remained separate are now blending, requiring additional skills and training for both individuals and teams.”

“To this end, workers on the plant floor are becoming experts in areas such as networking technology, data analytics and industrial security. Organisations embracing the new era of Industry 4.0 concepts and information-enabled manufacturing and industrial production are taking an active role in ensuring workers have the skills and knowledge necessary. This can help make the transition seamless and ensure they’re getting the most from their connected operations.”

“PDC have implemented real-time recording of cycles from casting and finishing machines. This real-time analysis at the machines is giving feedback to the operator on run-rates, targets, and recording the reasons for stoppages for later analysis by management. All this is done using POS touch screens, real-time recording of robot cycles and dimensional measuring make use of OPC protocol, Beckhoff open automation systems that are based on PC control technology and give operator level feedback of quality, operator and machine performance.”

“We have also recently purchased a 3D printer and this is saving costs on prototypes and jigging. We believe the future is mass customisation with 3D printing and not mass reproduction.”

“But it is not just about the operators and machines. You have to look at the whole company in totality. Our electricity meters are constantly monitored for usage and then uploaded to PC for further analysis, biometric access control of staff is integrated directly to the payroll system, our stores have an automated ordering system of consumables, inventory control is monitored using 2D barcoding which updates our SysPro directly and the barcoding and scanning for correct identification of component or product.”

“Additionally our clients place orders directly into our SysPro, bypassing faxing or emailing of orders and eliminating any comebacks.”

“To do all of this though you have to have an ERP system similar to our SysPro system and the SysPro manufacturing software. Currently we have five Wi-Fi units onsite with a further four being installed. This gives full Internet access for all employees on their phones. An APP with user-decided metrics is installed on their phones, which allows us to gather this real-time data. Almost-live dashboards give management financial data feedback per department showing orders outstanding, stock levels, QARs and production achieved for the previous day. Management can then make informed decisions and take corrective action if necessary.”

“Data mining has no borders, as does automation. If you are committed and have the will there is a way to implement the technology and achieve a huge amount of the benefits associated. With less time spent doing the mundane work and by removing the guesswork from the equation it is easy to see the efficiency gains that are possible.”

“Foundries of the future will need to be reactive to the changing market place and by investing in Industry 4.0 they will have a competitive edge. Those adopting the concept will be more efficient and improve productivity but at the same time will be able to be more reactive to customer needs because these systems will give huge flexibility allowing more affordable short production runs.”

“Employees today are expected to have very different skills compared to those from 25 years ago. At our company learning and training is not an option anymore it is compulsory. All PDC employees will be expected to be computer literate by 2022.”

“To accomplish this in July last year we gave all 300 employee free access to unlimited Wi-Fi in our quest to start the computer literacy programmes. We are also currently enrolling 90 of our permanent employees on a one year NQF level 3 Information Technology – End User Computing learnership. We hope to have all of our employees who are not computer literate yet, complete this learnership in five years.”

For further details contact Pressure Die Castings on TEL: 033 397 5500 or visit