Microsoft says Africa will undergo an industrial revolution once it develops its value-added manufacturing sector, according to new report.

From government to the private sector and academia, the continent’s growth rests on manufacturing to help the continent grow and continue to support a rising population and growing middle class, according to a senior boss at Microsoft.

And by embracing greener, more productive technology ('Industry 4.0'), the continent can escape energy and labour intensive processes to get ahead of competitors and cast off the shackles of an Africa viewed as uncompetitive..

Amr Kamel, Microsoft’s General Manager for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Oceans Islands, notes that in 2014 30 per cent of China’s GDP came from manufacturing, according to the World Bank, while comparatively, Nigeria’s GDP from manufacturing was just 9 per cent, Kenya 12 per cent and Zambia at 8 per cent.

“Africa is also at a crossroads. With a global focus on mitigating the effects of climate change and drastically reducing our carbon footprint, the world is on a mission to make the manufacturing industry cleaner, greener and more sustainable,” says Kamel.

He believes that traditionally, the heavy reliance on energy resources, infrastructural gaps and a skills and productivity shortage, has undermined the global competitiveness of Africa`s industrial sector.

He said: “By leapfrogging to Industry 4.0, Africa can take advantage of greener, more productive technologies without being encumbered by outdated, energy and labour intensive processes. By leapfrogging, Africa will be closer to achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, and meaningful employment while safeguarding its natural assets.".

The Microsoft executive says that a revolution in manufacturing can be secured through:

1. Slashing costs: For most manufacturers, energy is the first or second highest cost (after labour). By using data, companies can make demand-driven decisions, for example running equipment in conjunction with fluctuations in consumer demand, to save energy.

2. Extending use cycles: Intelligence provided by IoT and big data provides predictive maintenance, which can keep equipment functioning optimally. By keeping machines in use for a longer period it reduces the need for new ones to be manufactured – lowering impact on the environment and saving costs.

3. Increasing efficiency: In addition to reducing downtime, new technologies make factories more efficient and save power. Data can also track labour output, for example managing shifts optimally to increase productivity.

4. Reducing waste and emissions – Technologies like IoT reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the supply chain by tracking and managing energy use.

5. Workforce optimisation: Companies can use data to balance workforce requirements. Reduced overtime expense can be a major source of savings.

6. Product inventory: Manufacturers need to consider the cost of storage, any necessary insurance, maintenance and other factors. Focus on nimble and responsive manufacturing operations to avoid overproduction.

7. Product supply chains: Smart manufacturing will shift supply chains. There is a so-called “makers movement”, where companies are choosing local suppliers... This leads to a circular economy, which brings the efficiency that is at the heart of smart manufacturing.