Industry 4.0

Posted 30.01.17 in News

A new Insight from Space Group CEO Rob Charlton

In the mid-2000s, the design community from within the construction industry coined the term “Building Information Modelling” or BIM as we now know it. This was a catch-all for 3D design and embraced software such as Allplan, Architype and Revit.

This all-encompassing brand term was incredibly powerful and helped to align people behind one single initiative. Initially, this was embraced purely by the design community but following the government mandating BIM for all centrally procured projects the wider industry began to consider how BIM could support their workflows.

Eventually, the term BIM became too limiting for what was happening in the sector and the term “Digital Construction” is now being increasingly used. This allows broader consideration to include more than just the design model - now there are serious discussions about robotics, artificial intelligence and big data within the sector.

A number of years ago, the development of the World Wide Web had similar identity issues. The early internet was about web pages and portals. The dot-com boom and bust left a bad taste throughout this period but then a new breed of companies began to emerge. Google, Facebook and eBay started to consider the internet differently. Even though in reality this development was a progression rather than a change it was branded Web 2.0, giving the new developments the opportunity to be distanced from the past and build a new future.

Construction has evolved massively in five years. Whilst BIM has been hugely valuable over the past decade it brings with it a narrow perception of design and 3D models.  The value of digital information will impact far more on the sector in the years ahead.

Within the manufacturing sector, a new term has emerged. Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 defines a new period of industrialisation.

The first industrial revolution was in the Victorian era which during the 19th Century, saw a move from farming to factory production. The second period ran from around the 1850s up unto World War I and began with the introduction of steel and ultimately in the electrification of the factories and the beginning of mass production. The third industrial revolution is the change from analogue, mechanical, and electronic technology to digital technology that took place from the late 1950s to the late 1970s.

Industry 4.0 is part of the fourth revolution and this is where computers and automation come together in an entirely new way, with robotics connected remotely to computer systems equipped with machine learning algorithms that can learn and control these robotics with very little input from human operators.

The term 'Industry 4.0' was first used as part of a German government memo released in 2013. This high-tech strategy document outlined a plan to almost fully computerise the manufacturing industry without the need for human involvement.  Industry 4.0 promotes the “smart factory,” where computers monitor the physical processes of the factory and make decentralised decisions. The physical systems become the Internet of Things, communicating and cooperating both with each other and with humans in real time via the internet.

For a system to be considered part of Industry 4.0, it must include:

  • Interoperability — machines, devices, sensors and people that connect and communicate with one another.
  • Information transparency — systems which create a virtual representation of the real world through information gathered via sensors.
  • Technical assistance — The ability of systems to support humans in making decisions and solving problems as well as the ability to assist humans with tasks that are too difficult or unsafe.
  • Decentralised decision-making — the ability of systems to make simple decisions on their own and become autonomous.

As the construction sector develops its digital skills and increases access to data, manufacturing will increase off-site and on-site activity will reduce.  The Industry 4.0 reference will help align construction with more digitally mature sectors and will promote an emerging culture.

Smart factories at the heart of Industry 4.0, will take on board information and communication technology to enable a higher level of both automation and digitisation. With machines using self-optimisation, self-configuration and artificial intelligence to complete complex tasks we will be able to achieve vastly superior cost efficiencies and better quality buildings in design, construction and operation.