11th annual MESA Africa conference


I recently attended the MESA conference held at the Zulu Inyala Country Manor. Run over two days, this was the 11th instalment of this meeting of the minds in industry, and more importantly, a sizable amount of end users who utilise MES and MOM in their businesses.

People, productivity and profitability

This was my third attendance at a conference, which, over the years, has followed the direction of industry very well. This latest event had a focus on people – a lot of focus on people. The conference flavour was Vision 2020 – People, Productivity and Profitability, with the presenters all touching on these three topics somewhere in their respective presentations.

The overarching message was that people are concerned about people in the digital age, and I was somewhat set at ease considering my future in this 4IR evolution we’re experiencing right now. With the focus on people came the reification that the current employee will not and should not be cast aside in favour of another who embodies the requisite set of skills, as long as the current employee is willing to be retrained to meet the demands of 4IR.

The presentations were on point, relevant, and some were also funny and very engaging, something I enjoy. Often, conferences can drag on with somewhat boring slides about a very interesting topic, but this event reinvigorated the 4IR interest in me. Seeing that totally left field businesses, such as PwC were now dabbling in 4IR and digitalisation was inspiring. I think this is what a conference should aim to achieve, to inspire the audience to take back what they’ve learnt and adopt it within their organisations. The digitalisation flavour was as strong as expected, and the winning presenter from Exxaro, Eeje van Jaarsveld, really took us through his journey showcasing digitalisation at work via an autonomous drill. Another stand out presentation was PwC’s Vinesh Maharaj and their digital upskilling strategy and implementation. PwC enables employees to learn for the digital skills requirement; they identify skills and then enable their employees to learn at their leisure from content relevant to the digital age.

Sasol’s Jairus George and Louis van der Walt explained how they overcame a barrage of regulations and red tape, flying drones in dangerous environments such as petrochemical plants and mining operations for graphical map displays, digital map interactions and pipeline and tank inspections. OSIsoft’s Wade Potts explained the intricacies of a cow’s life analysed in minute detail, which farmers did not have access to before, via ‘fitbits’ for cows relaying data. Charlotte Botha from Distell gave us some helpful and insightful pointers on the implementation of an MES solution at one of their larger distilleries.


Conclusion

What I always remember about a conference are the food, venue and the guest speakers, and the 11th edition of the MESA conference did not disappoint. The guest speaker list was top tier both from an inspirational aspect as well as an industry knowledge viewpoint. Rich Mulholland got everyone’s attention on day one when he reminded us that 4IR is not a revolution it’s an evolution, and that we will get through it. Archie Moore reminded us that we define the culture in our organisations and we should embrace each other’s differences. I could relate this by peering over the crowd as I made notes for this review. The conference indicated to me that the manufacturing industry is opening up its doors. I never saw so many females at this typically male dominated gathering. I also saw a good mixture of cultures. What I’d like to see going forward is a mixture of generations, there are very few young professionals at these events, I’d like to see more youngsters attending MESA conferences in future, as this is a good platform to learn from the industry’s trendsetters.

Overall it was a most enjoyable two days. I expected a bombardment of knowledge that would have no bearing on my current work reality. I was wrong. The user presentations really made this event, one learns so much from another company’s implementation and use of technology. I encourage organisations from both private and public sectors to attend next year’s event to get insight into how others are embracing the notion of 4IR and digitalisation, networking with industry professionals, and, of course, enjoying the food, drink and laughter – it’s definitely worth it!