Prepare for the I4.0 wave


WE have reached an era in which buying and selling is pretty much done in the digital space. My wife ordered her barang pasar (groceries) last week via Instagram; she couldn’t care less about the seller’s profile as long as she could cook the best recipe she came across on her Facebook wall.

Have you ever wondered about the programming that goes into such a transaction? A geek, probably sitting in the comfort of his home, probably did the thinking on how to improve the virtual space while his kids were enjoying dinner.

Imagine something bigger. What if there is no need for the wife to rummage through the refrigerator to decide what needs ordering? What if there’s a system that can decide what to order based on the nutritional needs of the household? The handsome yet chubby husband probably doesn’t need those carbonated drinks, and ordering more chocolate won’t help in managing the ever-hyper kids.

To make it more interesting, every order will be considered based on the balance sheet of the couple’s bank accounts and the number of days before the next pay day.

That is the convergence of data in a nutshell in Industry 4.0, a term made famous by Karl Schwab, a German engineer and the founder and executive chairman of the influential World Economic Forum.

A revolution is defined as a state of change, therefore, the 4.0 industrial revolution needs to be understood in the context of the first to third revolutions the world has been through.

Before humankind came up with the steam engine, industry, be it manufacturing or agriculture, relied mostly on the strength of man and beast. The first big change in methodology was when the steam engine and machines driven by it were introduced, allowing people to produce more.

The situation remained static for quite some time; many different machines were built for many different purposes, but they were all driven by steam. This limitation was overcome when the second revolution happened, when electricity ushered in the era of mass production.

Remember when cars became much cheaper when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line technique of production? In his factory, workers did individual, specific tasks that added up to building an entire car, rather than a few workers all working on building one car. This resulted in a tremendous increase in productivity – and thanks to the economies of scale, soon everyone could drive a car.

The third revolution was catalysed by the introduction of computers in the 1970s. Robots and automation made production even easier, again increasing output.

Over the past century, the proliferation of the Internet has been tremendous. Notice your mobile applications being updated almost every day? That’s how fast the Internet grows, and this phenomenon is totally the opposite of the other industries.

Those plastic cups you use at home are made using roughly the same method used in the last 20 years; rubber tappers rely on the same knife design for the last 50 years; many more manufacturing methods and processes have remained the same. But what if we could combine industry and the Internet? Eureka! That is the fourth industrial revolution, or I4.0.

Schwab’s famous quote says it all: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution can compromise humanity’s traditional sources of meaning – work, community, family, and identity – or it can lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a sense of shared destiny. The choice is ours.”

With I4.0, human beings will be able to connect every bit of information and plan for the production of goods to exact requirements. Consumers will be able to have custom products at mass manufacturing prices. A chubby man like me will have access to cheaper tailor-made suits at lower prices, as data about my oversized belly can be made available to the manufacturer. It won’t be long before 3D scanning of my body shape can be done by my mobile phone, and this information can be fed directly into machines at factories a few kilometres away.

The concept can be expanded to all sectors, such as medical and social services. The data is currently available in either analogue or digital format and there is an immense need for gathering and managing it the right way.

The recent national policy on I4.0 launched by the Prime Minister is the prime guide for every Malaysian citizen. It highlighted the 11 key enabling technologies in transforming the country, and the key drivers of the revolution. With that information, we (the rakyat) will need to cascade down the strategic aim and look at the implementation roadmap.

It doesn’t really matter where you are in society, the understanding and the planning towards the execution of the roadmap would still be important. One cannot choose to not get involved just because of a lack of understanding. Like it or not, the revolution is coming and, like the unstoppable change in weather that doesn’t care whether you’re ready or not, it will rain.

SHAHRUL AZMI YUSOFF

Director,

Industrial Centre Of Innovation In Smart Manufacturing,

Sirim Industrial Research,

Sirim