BY DR SHAWN CUNNINGHAM
2 SEPTEMBER 2022
Often when we try to promote technological learning and innovation, we find that people in government and industry focus narrowly on physical technologies in the form of things, machines, software code or processes. Few workplaces pay attention to the many social technologies needed to rearrange or adapt workplaces around new technological capabilities. Furthermore, different stakeholders have little open dialogue about how the gaps can be closed between industries and technological and educational institutions, or how to establish missing technological infrastructure.
Most industry actors concentrate on the slow process of technological change within their industry, rather than on the potential disruptions posed by technological developments beyond their industry. One explanation for this blind spot is that it is hard to imagine how the current technological features of the emerging technologies developed elsewhere could unfold or spill over into existing market structures.Read More
ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE PROJECT
The Technological Change and Innovation System Observatory project aims to track and create awareness of disruptive innovation and discontinuous technological change by organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.
Augmented reality (AR) technology allows digital content to be overlayed or superimposed onto the real world. AR is only partially immersive as digital content is integrated as a layer onto the real world, whereas virtual reality is closed and fully immersive. The costs of applying augmented reality are much lower than the costs of virtual reality because AR typically combines a visual feed with a data layer; it does not involve the creation of a complete virtual world.
A major benefit of AR is that it reduces users’ cognitive load and provides technical staff access to relevant (and digitally updated) records, data and information.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can be described as the ability of digital systems to acquire and apply knowledge, and to autonomously execute tasks associated with intelligent beings. This includes a variety of cognitive tasks such as sensing, processing, language, reasoning, learning or even making decisions or self-correcting. AI combines sophisticated hardware and software with elaborate datasets and knowledge-based processing models to demonstrate characteristics of effective human decision-making.
It would be a mistake to think of AI as a technology of the future, because it is already used in our smartphones, on websites, in aircraft, for traffic navigation, in the finance sector, and increasingly in manufacturing.
Over the past 10 years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has slowly crept into the daily lives of consumers through smartwatches, vehicle tracking systems, public transport apps, home alarm systems and food delivery services. These technologies offer many conveniences, such as tracking transport schedules, parcel deliveries, the location of assets like vehicles, or local weather conditions. It takes existing expert domains, such as smart factories, process automation, flexible manufacturing and process control, and combines these with the extensive reach of internet and telecommunication technologies.
For industry, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) offers increased oversight and connectivity between different manufacturing and business processes, and closer integration with suppliers, logistics providers, warehouses, and even clients. It allows for improved efficiency and better analysis of process flows, often over large distances. At the same time, it allows for new services to be offered to clients such as predictive mainte-nance, management systems, analytical services and software updates.
At the heart of IoT technology is the capability to integrate the data streams from distributed sensors into management systems and user interfaces. While some sensors mainly collect and transmit data, other sensors could be programmed to automatically trigger programmed functions. As these different sensors and devices perform their functions, rich data is collected that allows for improved process management and efficiency, data analysis and value to be offered.
PROFILE 1 (Updated April 2022)
Additive layer manufacturing describes a manufacturing process in which a digitally controlled head with a laser deposits a fine layer of raw material to construct a three-dimensional object. Additive manufacturing is sometimes also called 3D printing.
3D desktop printers are already available to consumers at computer retailers and hobby shops. The performance and functionality of desktop 3D printers are increasing rapidly, while the cost of ownership is falling rapidly. Desktop 3D printers usually deposit a layer of molten plastic on a bed to create a three-dimensional shape.
In the industrial domain, rapid advances are being made in the melting of metals, alloys, high performance plastics and polycarbonates using lasers. Likewise, in the medical field, different technologies are being developed that allow for the combination of cells, growth factors, biomaterials and tissue to grow organs. Additive manufacturing technologies are also used to print complex sand moulds, or to create wax moulds for investment castings. The metal objects made by 3D printed moulds are basically ready-for-use and require almost no further grinding or processing.
These research papers and policy briefs focus on preparing South African industry for the fourth industrial revolution.
Adoption of frontier technologies in six manufacturing subsectors
This policy brief highlights the adoption of frontier technologies in six manufacturing subsectors: metal and engineering; retail motor and aftercare; plastics; manufacturing; automotive components; automotive manufacturing; and new tyre manufacturing. This is important because, while there is an understanding of the importance of frontier technologies for the manufacturing sector, there has not been a comprehensive investigation of the level of adoption across the different subsectors. Previous research has either zoned in on one sector, such as metal, or looked at the level of adoption at the continental level. To address the gap, a survey was conducted on behalf of merSETA (the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority) to collate baseline information on key trends around technological change. This policy brief highlights the aggregated results from the survey. The survey analysis is supplemented by interview data with key stakeholders in the industry.
Technological change and the DTIC: innovation in the industry
The rapid pace of technological change is taking place in the context of South Africa slipping in its readiness for these changes. At the same time policies to support structural economic change in the economy, such as moving from a dependence on mining and commodities, are being implemented. Technological change and innovation are important elements of this structural change. This Policy Brief aims to give context to these technological changes and the industrial policy interface.
REPORT BY NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INNOVATION
This report outlines the state of science, technology and innovation (STI) in South Africa in the context of deepening global economic, ecological and social crises. Commissioned by the National Advisory Council on Innovation, the report looks at investments in Research, Development and Innovation, STI human resources, innovation in manufacturing, digital competitiveness, and the distribution of Research and Development (R&D) in provinces, among other indicators. The report compares South Africa’s performance with various countries, identifying the relative strengths and weaknesses of the national system of innovation. It also indicates progress in creating conditions conducive to the translation of innovative R&D into useful technologies with a positive impact on the economy, society and the environment.
REPORT BY THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
The latest iteration of the WEF Emerging Technologies of 2021 report covers technologies like breath sensors that can diagnose disease and the wireless charging of low-powered devices. This is the 10th-anniversary edition of the report that is available from the WEF website. The WEF and the Scientific American Journal select these technologies against several criteria. For instance, the technologies are selected because they promise major benefits to societies and economies, they must be disruptive, attractive to researchers and investors, and they must be expected to achieve considerable scale within five years.
PUBLISHED BY THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INNOVATION
This annual report provides the latest available data on science, technology and innovation in the South African economy. The conceptual framework for the report utilises the revised South African Innovation Scorecard framework that is adapted from the European Scoreboard. This makes it easier to compare how South Africa is performing in relation to the European Innovation System. The report shows that South Africa is slipping in performance in many key areas, despite considerable investments in human capital and science and technology infrastructure.