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How an engineer traps a mouse…reflections on Industry 4.0

October 3, 2017
By Lucas Hof

In my previous blog I was talking about ‘a new industrial revolution…’ referring to the fourth industrial revolution which is taking place right now. This ‘revolution’ is, unlike the preceding three industrial revolutions, occurring without necessarily an obvious new technological invention. In fact, the revolutionary aspect is the smart use and integration of many current state-of-the-art technologies and advancements in all engineering and many scientific disciplines (e.g. artificial intelligence (AI), 3D printing, robotics, nanotechnology, energy storage, the internet of things (IoT), big data, machine learning). Breakthroughs in these emerging fields combined with successful integration of these multiple technologies is the key enabler of this fourth industrial revolution, where we yet must understand fully its speed and extend.

Successful integration of different technologies is not as trivial as one might think. Most often, engineers tend to optimize the solution for a technical challenge from one specific discipline as illustrated in the picture above. This picture was used by my professor during my Master “Advanced Mechatronics” (merges Mechanical, Electronical and Computer Engineering together), and I think that it also illustrates well the challenges we face with education for Industry 4.0. Ask a professor in Mechanical Engineering and a professor in Information Systems what is Industry 4.0 and you will get a different answer. In my opinion, there is not a simple answer possible and the answer will evolve with time. Where we all can agree on is that even more multidisciplinary engineering approaches are demanded now and engineers from all disciplines need to be trained accordingly to stimulate creativity and multidisciplinary know-how to be ready for the new ‘Industry 4.0’ jobs. The ability to adapt to new fields of work and situations becomes increasingly important for future engineering jobs and probably for most other jobs too.

There is still a lot of work to do for many universities and colleges to adapt their curriculum, where currently the large industrial pioneers are leading in training development. Collaboration between these industrial leaders and educational institutes is necessary to match demand and supply effectively. Universities have to make sure to not lag behind the industrial reality to guarantee adequate training for future engineers. The needed multidisciplinary creative approach to be educated contains not only the technological skills, even more important is the mindset to be developed. I believe that the key for successful integration of Industry 4.0 in various industries is to develop a business operation structure where all employees are engaged and committed to the product or service they work on, trying to optimize their specific operation every day.  

The direction of the fourth industrial revolution and its impact on the way we live and work is undoubtedly the responsibility of governments and industrial executive decision makers. However, I believe that also entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, the education institutes and we all have influence to guide the outcomes of this revolution in a positive way. 

About the author

Lucas Hof is PhD candidate at Mechanical Engineering, Concordia University. Together with Dr. Rolf Wüthrich and Posalux SA, he has co-developed a novel glass micromachining technology allowing the lean production of ultra-customized glass parts. To this day, Hof has cumulated over 10 years of teaching, entrepreneurial and industrial experience and produced over 30 journal and conference papers and one patent.

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