Think broadly for technology and automation: Getting back to travel internationally

Although some people have already been travelling to international destinations, the majority of us are being cautious and not prepared to risk it yet. The thought of being stuck in a foreign country because of Covid restrictions suddenly rearing its head are a bit hard to contemplate. There have been all sorts of travel regulations on international flights and international travel to and from South Africa is allowed, subject to health and safety protocols. These are constantly changing and I believe right now there are none in place, except for wearing masks. All pre-Covid requirements have never changed and they are a pre-requisite to travel in and out the country. This does give you a sense of confidence and a quick look at what airlines are servicing South Africa as a destination shows that the majority are all operating flights to and from South Africa.

A noticeable absence is Australian national airline Qantas. Maybe that has stopped the brain drain from South Africa to that part of the world, temporarily. One particular machine tool dealer with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Auckland have become, it is joked about in our industry, South African branch offices because of the amount of South Africans employed by the company.

Slowly though international destinations are becoming more accessible – as long as the war does not escalate and spread – and the international exhibitions that went digital for the last two years are going live again.

In June 2022 Wire & Tube will be held in Düsseldorf, Germany and coming up in October 2022 EuroBLECH 2022 will be held in Hannover, Germany. Both of these European events have always been popular with South Africans and many have attended. I have been attending these exhibitions since 1989, every year. Over three years would have lapsed when I attend my next international exhibition.

However, that aside, I have always promoted that South Africans should attend the international exhibitions, for many reasons. It was therefore refreshing to interview Albert de Villiers, Managing Director and whom founded Wire Products Poultry (WPP) in 1987. He explained his philosophy of technology and automation to me: “I have visited many international suppliers and trade exhibitions all over the world. I made it my business to do so because the opportunities are endless to make contact with fellow industrialists sharing ideas and problem solving in fabricating, machining or manufacturing. Seeing the latest developments in our industry and to see in which direction our industry is moving in, what goals are set by world leaders in their specialised fields, is invaluable for me to learn and to run and improve my business.”

“This is where I have sourced many of the manufacturing processes and equipment that we use daily. That was until the pandemic held the world hostage and over various stages put a stop to all travelling. Thank goodness it did not put a stop to innovation and during this period, in conjunction with Robotic Innovations, we were able to come up with a solution for what I regarded as a bottleneck and headache on the production floor.”

WPP now have a cell with two robots welding mesh frames into supermarket trolleys. The cell is only working at 20% of capacity but it has doubled the production output in this department. You therefore can imagine the potential that the company still has at its disposal.

In this case it was a South African company using international equipment and software that came up with a solution for WPP but it would not have happened had de Villiers not thought broadly and wanted to incorporate the latest technology and automation into his plant.