20 Keys

The 20 Keys synergy with the 4th Industrial Revolution Tsunami

The next wave of an industrial revolution is the so called 4th Industrial revolution or digital industrial revolution. Like its predecessors before, it is unstoppable, the proverbial tsunami. The main drivers of the 4IR revolution within South African government are the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry[1] and the DST (Department of Science and Technology)[2]. In South African industries, the 4IR leaders are in financial services and retail because their processes are most susceptible to digitization. In general manufacturing, it is safe to say that, although the M2M (machine-to-machine) technologies such as SCADA, APIs and CNC s have been adopted decades ago, there are still a lot of processes which are discrete and running silo without the synergistic connectivity to either their upstream and / or downstream processes.

The adoption of digitalisation of systems and processes results in what is called smart manufacturing in 4IR parlance. The commonly used term for 4IR is Internet of Things (IoT) which has a wide product and sectorial applications in areas such as manufacturing, water, energy, medicine, farming, disaster management, traffic management, and learning and development to name a few. But 4IR is more than IoT. It also encompasses cyber-physical systems and cloud computing. The 4IR opportunities are in connected supply chain, optimised production, sustainable production, energy efficiency, and safe production[3].  The design of 4IR is based on four principles, namely

  • interoperability,
  • information transparency,
  • decentralised decisions and
  • technical assistance.[4]

There is a striking synergy between the 20 Keys system of workplace improvement and the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is good news to the 20 Keys practitioners because they do not have to re-invent the wheel, but reconfigure their existing systems and processes to fit the 4IR framework, where necessary. This will help strengthen areas where the 20 Keys have already been implemented to eke out the benefits brought by digitalisation, perhaps, beyond M2M configuration. I believe that such a reconfiguration needs to be handled carefully as not to upset the cart on what is already working properly and also to avoid the redundancy of effort and cost, especially where the cost benefits cannot be justified.

The Table below show some of the similarities and opportunities for 20 Keys practitioners to hook on the 4IR initiatives.

20 Keys system of workplace improvement Smart Manufacturing Goals
Key 12

Key 4

Key 8

Developing suppliers

Reducing inventory

Coupled Manufacturing


Connected supply chain Agile

Demand driven

Raw materials to finished products

Key 9


Key 13

Key 11

Key 16

Maintaining Machines and Equipment

Eliminating Waste

Quality Assurance

Production scheduling

Optimised production Asset/Utility zero downtime

Quality/Zero defects

Reliable results

Key 6


Key 7

Key 18


Key 20

Kaizen of operations


Zero Monitor

Using Microprocessors / Information Systems

Leading Technology / Site Technology

Sustainable production Higher value products

Data for decision-making

Product life cycle management

Key 17

Key 19

Efficiency Control

Conserving Energy and Materials

Energy efficiency Lower emissions

Less energy

Green manufacturing

Key 15


Key 1

Skill Versatility and Cross-training

Cleaning and Organisation


Safe production Improved safety

Fewer incidents

More user friendly


The mapping of the 20 Keys to the 4IR smart manufacturing goals is not exhaustive, deliberately, because the aim is not necessarily to present a comparative study, but an indication of some of synergistic elements that two systems share. It is also demonstrate that the 20 Keys is certainly ahead of its contemporaries in that a few decades later, it appears to be re-incarnated in the digital form from its mechanical artefact of past.

The next question that might come to mind to any 20 Keys practitioner, is how we do close this digital divide thrown to us by the 4IR? The government has made many pronouncements indicating its commitment to assist South African industries to adopt the 4IR. The government has provided a suite of incentives[5] that could be used by companies to implement the 4IR. Some of these are old such as SPII, MCEP, CTCP and others have been reconfigured to address the 4IR challenges such as the Workplace Challenge programme[6] for SMMEs.

Author: Dr Ntokozo Mthembu, Pr Eng., PhD : Independent Consultant (Business Development, Innovation and Technology Specialist)


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