Industry 4.0 to drive Sustainable Development Goals: Part-I

M Rokonuzzaman | Published: December 01, 2018 20:53:55 | Updated: December 04, 2018 21:40:00

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) jointly organised a high-level seminar in Phnom Penh on September 03, 2018 to discuss and identify main policy gaps and develop key recommendations that should facilitate Industry 4.0 in Cambodia. —UNDP

Two major issues confront the world today. The first one is about the sustainable development goals (SDGs), set out by the United Nations, and the second is about the continued progression of technology, leading to intelligent machines and human-free production processes. This state of industrial progression is termed as Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

From the global perspective, both of these are highly important development issues. On one hand, we are facing the challenge of producing increasing outputs from depleting resources, while causing less pollution and harm to the environment for meeting ever growing consumption. On the other hand, the emergence of Industry 4.0 is often causing the fear of job loss and inequality. But can we harness Industry 4.0 to address the pressing issues of SDGs?

Industry 4.0 is a combination of 10 major technologies: i. Sensors, and Machine Intelligence Algorithms, ii. Autonomous Robots, iii. Big Data, Analytics, and Integration, iv. Simulation and Digital Twin, v. The Industrial Internet of Things, vi. Cybersecurity, vii. The Cloud and Edge Computing, viii. Additive Manufacturing, ix. Augmented and Virtual Reality, and x. Human-Machine Cooperation. On the other hand, sustainable development agenda presents 17 major goals of development with 169 targets. It's worth investigating how technology portfolio of Industry 4.0 could help us achieve the 17 SDGs.

GOAL 1--END POVERTY:  According to the most recent estimates, in 2015, 10 per cent of the world population lived on less than US$1.90 a day. To progress in this agenda, we need to increase the income level of the target group. Among relevant productive areas, farming and dairy practices fitted with sensors and software have the potential to increase income level at the bottom of the pyramid. It has already been demonstrated in different parts of Asia and Africa that the sensors (like accelerometer) and internet connectivity attached to a dairy cow's neck using a strap has the potential to increase the frequency of detecting when a cow is on heat and to ensure it is served with quality semen during artificial insemination (AI). Moreover, many useful applications could be developed around the smartphone to educate people to increase their income level.

GOAL 2--END HUNGER: Hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, reaching 821 million in 2017 or one in every nine people, according to report of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018. On one hand, arable land is decreasing; on the other hand, there are problems like freshwater scarcity, diminishing soil fertility, environmental concerns due to excessive use pesticide etc are growing. Industry 4.0 technologies like sensors, software, micro-robotics, drones, and data analytics open the opportunity for supporting farmers in taking a more accurate decision, and applying inputs in a more precise manner to produce more food from the same land, while making less wastage of water and other inputs. According to some demonstrations, yield could increase as high as 25 per cent and wastage of inputs could be reduced significantly.

GOAL 3--ENSURE HEALTHY LIVES: To address critical issues starting from health monitoring to preventing road accidents, Industry 4.0 technologies could be of immense help. The growth of diverse wearable health monitoring technologies, smartphones and connectivity-based innovations could lead to significant improvement in diverse areas starting from maternal mortality to universal access to health information and education. The applications of industry 4.0 technologies in production also have the potential to reduce pollution of air, water, and soil.   

GOAL 4--INCLUSIVE AND LIFELONG LEARNING: The quality of education has been an issue for long. Moreover, lifelong learning is a growing issue due to rapid technological changes. The emergence of virtual, and augmented reality (VR, AR) coupled with smartphones, connectivity, and cloud computing are opening opportunities for innovation to address this burning issue. In experimenting with AR and VR as knowledge transfer solutions to improve industrial skills in developing countries, UNIDO finds augmented and virtual reality-based knowledge transfer solutions as affordable and effective tools for reducing poverty, increasing production capacity, and developing industrial skills in developing countries.

GOAL 5-ACHIEVE GENDER EQUALITY: Empowering women and girls with education, skills and jobs appear to be a key tool to address the gender equality issue. Industry 4.0 is opening the opportunity for easing skill development and also offering remote employment. For example, with the support of VR and AR gears, girls in remote villages of Bangladesh or India can offer guidance and assistance to people suffering from disabilities such as blindness. For example, some commercial applications already provide users with a pair of Google Glass to blind people. Connected over the cellular network, an application allows a remote agent to see in real time what the blind user would be seeing, and guide them accordingly.

GOAL 6-WATER AND SANITATION FOR ALL: The progress in reducing water pollution, and reduction in water wastage is going to play a vital role in addressing this goal. So far, regulation has been the only means to address it. The Industry 4.0 technology portfolio is opening the opportunity to innovate profitable means for reducing water pollution and wastage-by pursuing smart water policy. The term "smart water" refers to water and wastewater infrastructure that ensures this precious resource is managed effectively. A smart water system is designed to gather accurate, real-time data about the flow, pressure, and distribution of a city's water. Water management is an urgent, increasing concern; one-third of global utilities report that 40 per cent of clean water is lost due to leaks, where industry 4.0 could be a solution.

GOAL 7-MODERN ENERGY: Starting from the energy efficiency improvement to the production of energy from wind and solar, and connecting them to smart grid as well as storage, diverse opportunities are there for the modern energy agenda to benefit from Industry 4.0 technology portfolio. The industrial sector needs more energy than any other area, consuming 54 per cent of the global electricity. Naturally, factories and plants are consuming and wasting tons of energy, so managing output and usage could have remarkable cost returns. This is where industrial IoT, or the Internet of Things, can have a major impact on the modern energy agenda. Similarly, Industry 4.0 offers the opportunity of profitable connectivity of renewable resources and intermittence management with storage.

In the subsequent publications, the scope of leveraging Industry 4.0 to make progress in remaining goals of SDGs will be shared. It appears that there is a strong correlation between Industry 4.0 technology portfolio and the goals of sustainable development. The benefit derived from each country will depend on the approach being pursued. Developing countries with the strategy of purchasing technology from advanced countries to make progress in SGDs goals will likely be creating high paying jobs in advanced countries while causing job loss in developing ones-posing the threat of growing inequality. On the other hand, technology import restriction will lead to slow progress in SDGs. There should be a fine balance between technology import, adaptation, and local innovation so that the gain is maximised-and inequality is reduced as opposed to the other way round. [Part-II of the article will be published on Wednesday]

M Rokonuzzaman Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation and policy.

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