What can we learn from Brazil?

Quite a bit, actually. In May this year Metalworking News was privileged to be invited to Brazil by ABIMAQ – The Brazilian Machine Tool Builders’ Association – to attend the second edition of the highly successful and largest Latin American trade show for the machine tool and industrial automation industries in Latin America – EXPOMAFE 2019.

It had been nearly 10 years since this publication had last visited Brazil, and while some things haven’t changed, such as the Brazilian desire to want to be the country of the future, and the fact that everyone thinks that they are Ayrton Senna on the roads, much has, especially in manufacturing.

This was only the second time this exhibition had been held, but it was already 25% larger than its predecessor. Over 55 000 visitors from more than 30 countries – most of whom were deemed as ‘quality’ by the 750-plus exhibitors – descended on the energetic city of São Paulo for the show.

Brazilian manufacturing companies are fully embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it was clear that some areas of the Brazilian manufacturing industry are realising growth – an industry that is also currently generating jobs in that country. The theme of the exhibition was to embrace Industry 4.0 and to bring together young and old by showing visitors what the potential of modern manufacturing and interconnectivity has to offer. Symbolised everywhere was the relationship between man and machine.

Emerging from a state of political turmoil, Brazil now stands at the precipice of a journey into yet more of the unknown, but at least people are cooperating and participating and collectively working together to build a better Brazil for all.

Ernesto Araújo, Brazil’s foreign minister, recently told the Financial Times that the South American customs union Mercosur, whose countries comprise of the powerful agricultural nations of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, are soon to finalise an extensive free trade agreement with the European Union.

So, while Trump’s US looks to sturdy policies of protectionism (Brazilian manufacturing equipment exports to that country are already on the rise), and the EU remains a protagonist of free trade, such free trade agreements could thrust the Brazilian economy into a state of growth.

Further reforms expected to stimulate economic growth include measures such as tourists from the US, Japan, Australia and Canada no longer requiring a visa to visit Brazil as of June 17.

Professor Louis Fourie, deputy vice-chancellor: Knowledge and information technology at Cape Peninsula University of Technology says: “At a currently undisclosed place in Latin America, an entire 3D printed neighbourhood for a small community of 50 farmers and weavers will be built in 24 hours.” Surely this is the kind of thinking we need in South Africa? South Africans don’t need a visa to visit Brazil – just another reason to put Brazil on your radar if it isn’t. Opportunities abound.

But it’s not all doom and gloom back home. With significant investments in plant upgrades and Industry 4.0 preparation and compliance from local automobile manufacturers like Nissan, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, and OEM suppliers like Maxion Wheels, it should come as little surprise to read that the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) is reporting that vehicle export sales continue to perform exceptionally well, and will do so for the remainder of this year.

There is currently talk of Mercedes-Benz USA shifting all production of its C-class vehicles from its Vance, Alabama plant, to its East London plant. That’s another 40 000 vehicles that could be manufactured locally. Managing Director of Ford Motor Company of Southern and Sub-Saharan Africa Neale Hill says: “Where some might see obstacles, others see opportunities.”

Clearly OSG Corporation sees opportunity and is investing R60 million over the next 24 months in new technology and equipment at its Somta Tools factory in Pietermaritzburg, and Macsteel recently won the Small Supplier and Local Manufacturing Award in acknowledgement of companies who have developed an ecosystem of small suppliers, manufacturers or value-add services and products from the local industry.

So, whatever you want to call it – the Internet of things, Industry 4.0, AI or Big Data – it is complex, it is here, and it is here now, not next month or later this year. Like Brazil, and the companies mentioned, you should at least have a strategy in place for dealing with how these industry changes will impact your business. Some industry role players are already asking what comes after Industry 4.0. Don’t get left behind.

Damon Crawford
Online Editor