In Africa, we face the challenge of a manufacturing sector that often manufactures products in low volumes. In a country like South Africa, we manufacture a wide range of products but often at low scale. Even our manufacturers that manufacture in larger volumes are still small compared to European or Asian competitors. In some parts of Africa we are further challenged by not having very sophisticated domestic demand in many sectors. When demanding customers are far away it becomes much more difficult to be innovative and well informed of what is possible and what can be done to exceed or at least meet the demands of customers.
But I can sense an important change taking place. I am frequently visiting manufacturers that are becoming much more knowledge intensive. They are smaller and more flexible than their more established competitors, and they combine different skills sets, technology platforms and knowledge bases.
In a forthcoming paper  that I co-authored with Garth Williams of the Department of Science and Technology and Prof. Deon de Beer (Vaal University of Technology), we offered the following definition of Advanced Manufacturing.
Advanced manufacturing is an approach that
- Depends on the use and integration of information, knowledge, state of the art equipment, precision tooling, automation, computation, software, modelling and simulation, sensing and networking;
- Makes use of cutting edge materials, new industrial platform technologies , emerging physical or biological scientific capabilities  and green manufacturing philosophies; and/or
- Uses a high degree of design and highly skilled people (including scientific skills) from different disciplines and in a multidisciplinary manner.
We also argue that Advanced Manufacturing includes a combination of the following.
- Product innovation: Making new products emerging out of new advanced technologies (including processing technologies).
- Process innovation: New methods of making existing products (goods or services).
- Organizational innovation or business model innovation: Combining new or old knowledge and technologies with traditional factors of production  in non-traditional fields or disciplines in unique configurations.
I am very proud that our definition of advanced manufacturing was also taken up by the Department of Trade and Industry in their next Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2014/15-2016/2017.
The implication is that our technology development, technology transfer and education programmes need to change in order to be better able to equip and support manufacturers. Manufacturers increasingly need to be able to manage multidisciplinary teams using different technologies. These manufacturers must not only be able to learn fast from the market around them, they must be harness and pro-actively develop new combinations of knowledge within their enterprise. Existing or potential manufacturers must also think differently about manufacturing. Smaller factories, using more modern equipment in a flexible way is now a competitive advantage. The entry costs for starting a small manufacturing enterprise has never been so low. For instance, the cost of an automated electronics surface mount production line has come down by more than 70% in less than 10 years. Additive manufacturing allows tooling and products to be developed in parallel, but also makes it possible to develop new products very fast.
Where do South Africa enterprises learn to become more knowledge intensive at the moment? The answer is: At European Trade Shows. If you are a manufacturer or a potential entrepreneur, start saving up. There are many excellent trade shows throughout the year.
Which Meso-organisations offers the best examples, technology demonstration and training on this? Again, European Universities, Technology Transfer centres and universities. (The US and Canada also provide brilliant services, but it is much harder to access for us). If you cannot find a local expert or academics to help you, reach up to Europe.
What do we have to do? Think of ways to get as many of our entrepreneurs curious or interested in the newer technologies available, and learn from our (larger) competitors. Also, we have to get our universities to be more involved in technology adaptation and participating in new research areas. The academia should focus less on publishing in journals and get involved in real research collaboration that gives our industries (exporting) opportunities and that at the same time address unique needs in our domestic markets.
Oh, and by the way. Start reading up on the “internet of things”. Maybe my next post should focus on that.
 Our paper will be presented at the International Conference on Manufacturing-Led Growth for Employment and Equality in Johannesburg on the 20th and 21st of May. The paper is titled “Advanced Manufacturing and Jobs in South Africa: An Examination of Perceptions and Trends”.
 Such platforms have multiple commercial applications, e.g. composite materials, and exhibit high spill-over effects.
 Labour, materials, capital goods, energy, etc.