Businesses urged to team up for innovation

Innovation is critical to manufacturing success, but equally, you cannot innovate in a box. Business leaders and professionals at the second Manufacturing Indaba heard how collaboration was key.

 manufacturing_indaba_1_article The speakers at this year’s Manufacturing Indaba included Mondli Gungubele, Mayor of the Ekurhuleni Municipality, Dr. Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry, and Mr. Bruce Strong, the Chief Executive Officer of Mpact Limited. (Images: Manufacturing Indaba)

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Melissa Javan

Collaboration was critical to the success of a business, Jan Wessels said at the Manufacturing Indaba, held at Ekurhuleni’s Emperors Palace, in Gauteng, South Africa.

It was the second year the indaba was held. Wessels was speaking on 29 June, the first day of the two-day event. The goal of the indaba is to create a platform for business owners, industry leaders, government officials, capital providers, experts and professionals to discuss challenges and to brainstorm solutions, the site reads. The theme this year was “Localisation and the growth of an advanced manufacturing economy”.

The Best of South African Manufacturing was one of the panel discussions on Monday, during which delegates gave insight into how their businesses had grown over the years. Wessels, of Denel, said the state-owned aerospace and defence technology company was successful because of a few key points to which it adhered. “We had to find our own niche. Find our own unique selling points.”

No matter how good your product was, he said, if it was not positioned correctly, it would not be successful. “Collaboration is critical. We had to take bitter medicine and learn how to partner.”

Over the years through Denel’s ups and downs, the company had learned a lot. “One of their key performance areas is that they contribute to the National Development Plan.”

Investing in its employees is key to the success of a business, according to Leif Karlsson of Saab Grintek, the defence, civil security and telecommunications company. By “investing”, he meant giving extended training to people, he said. “If you take care of your people, they will take care of your business.”

The way businesses treated their customers was also important, Karlsson added. “We tend to forget the customer in the critical phase. The key is to be with them when they struggle, be with them when the product or system fails.

“Have great customer support. You will stay profitable if you support the customer.”

Bruce Strong, the chairman of Mpact, the paper and plastics manufacturing group, said that innovation had to become part of the business process. “We have a new machine; it uses 30% of the power the old machine used,” he said by way of example of how innovation was crucial to success.

Strong is also chairman of the Manufacturing Circle, a network that interacts with government and other stakeholders to review, debate and help formulate policies which will have a positive impact on South Africa’s manufacturing base.

The company also invested R1.2-billion in recycling, Strong added. “We have continued to invest since the year 2000 despite the challenges like recession. We reaped the benefits.”

 manufacturing_indaba_2_article Exhibitors at the event included companies in the energy sector, biofuels, nuclear, renewables, green and energy saving industries.

Representatives of government-supported organisations and companies used the occasion to showcase what they were doing to contribute to the economy.

Dan Nagy of Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) said the group was supported by more than 30 countries, including South Africa. IMS provides services such as international coaching in global research and innovation.

Companies that were interested in innovation research could join IMS at no cost, he explained. “We don’t charge for our services. You can just jump in and take advantage of our services.”

A company could gain a lot of knowledge from collaborating with others. “You’ll have conversations like how are you doing this or that. Business interaction is involved as well,” Nagy added. “You cannot innovate in a box; nobody can do it alone.”

He believed that sharing your resources and joining a network was a good idea.