The fourth industrial revolution is in full swing. Its vision – well-known as "Industry 4.0" or "Smart Industry" – to decentralize production processes into autonomous but interconnected units along global value chains is about to become reality. The overall promise to raise customer satisfaction through individualized products, while at the same time increasing productivity and sustainability will change production and consumption radically. The social and economic implications of Smart Industry go far beyond ‘simple’ technical links which offers opportunities but raises also concerns:
Will we be having a production without humans and how will our society handle the risk of increasing job losses?
Will these new technologies change organizations and how can we create new, appropriate business models?
Will we exploit our natural resources when further increasing production and how can we systematically increase sustainability?
Tackling such questions about the implications of Smart Industry requires a deeper understanding of business and societal interrelations and joint multidisciplinary initiatives. Smart Industry is not only a technological but much more a societal challenge which requires high-tech with a human touch in a responsible and sustainable way.
As part of a university that carries the motto ‘High Tech, Human Touch’, the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social sciences (BMS) of the University of Twente is uniquely positioned to engage in research on the origins, developments and consequences of this transformation of the economy and society. The Faculty consists of various departments that focus on business processes, human resources, information systems, communication sciences, policy studies, sociology, economics and the philosophy of science. Through the combination of these sub-disciplines and its connection to the engineering-oriented faculties of the University of Twente, the faculty of BMS can proactively anticipate and explore different possible scenarios (revolving around critical societal challenges), explain and predict (and teach about) the consequences of smart industry for systems of production, management, and governance.
The BMS Smart Industry Working Group has developed a research roadmap focused on the implications of Smart Industry to business, society and people. The full roadmap containing the systematic bibliographic research is available here. Below you can find a short summary of the roadmap.
The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Smart Industry (the Netherlands), Industry 4.0 (Germany) and Advanced Manufacturing (United States), is in full swing. The vision of decentralized business processes consisting of autonomous yet interconnected units along global value chains is about to become reality. The use of cyber-physical production systems holds the potential of raising customer satisfaction through individualized products, while increasing productivity and resource efficiency. Currently, industry and research are working closely in field labs and smart factories to develop these cyber-physical production systems through digital applications, smart machinery, sensor technology, intelligent robots, and manufacturing concepts for globally interconnected value chains.
Along with the new digital technologies and the bright vision regarding their potential business and sustainability benefits outlined above, many concerns and worries also arise about their implications for individuals and society as a whole. Will we be having a production without humans and how will our society handle the risk of increasing job losses? Are large IT companies controlling our data? Will we deplete our natural resources even more as result of an increased and more efficient production? Will companies ever mange implement circular business models in a structural way? How do we avoid increasing the technology gap between the global north and the global south? These questions reveal that the 4th industrial revolution is not only a technological but also a societal challenge that requires a responsible “human touch” approach for understanding and controlling the driving forces behind the “high-tech”. Furthermore, since most I4.0 technologies are still in the phase of innovation triggers or have just reached the peak of inflated expectations, their societal and environmental benefits need not just to be declared but also to be proven in the years to come.
BMS Smart industry research roadmap model
All industrial revolutions started with the development of new technologies in support of production, which allowed for efficiency gains. Subsequently, firms had to adopt them, and adapt their business models, since they would not be able to withstand more efficient competitors. Gradually, society also had to change as result of the adoption of such new technologies on a large scale, and of the impact new business models had on economy at a macro level. This had important consequences for people, as they had to adjust to a new way of working, of being educated and of living, in order for them to be able to respond to the needs of a more modern economy and society. We observe the exact same pattern emerging now in the context of the 4th industrial revolution. Therefore, we followed this line of reasoning to structure our Smart Industry Roadmap Model (see figure below). Each of the focal areas is further divided into several sub-areas that reflect both the research interests of BMS researchers, and the information we collected on I4.0-related industry needs. Next each of the sub-areas is described.
Maturity of the three focal areas and cross-cutting research
In this section, we provide an assessment of the research maturity of the different areas in the Smart Industry Research Model (see table below). For this purpose, we use a simple maturity model, with the following levels:
- Maturity 0: No Industry 4.0 specific research on the topic
- Maturity 1: Investigation and Conceptualisation
- Maturity 2: Validation and application
- Maturity 3: Knowledge transfer and valorisation
This is also the final result of this roadmap document. Not only it brings into one picture the Smart Industry Research Model areas and the Smart Industry cross cutting issues, but it also assesses and compares the maturity levels of Smart Industry research from two perspectives (resulting from our investigations so far): the perspective of extant literature (also described in the Roadmap document) and that of BMS research.
What we can observe is that the research related to the business aspects of the Smart Industry Research Model is relatively mature, with two of the topics (Global marketplaces, and Life-cycle solutions) being at the point of entering the knowledge transfer to industry and valorisation stage. Similarly, in terms of research relating to society, the topic of sustainable economy is also entering the valorisation stage, while the topic of Education seems to not be covered by research, in relation to Smart industry. Unlike the other two focal areas of the Smart Industry Research Model , in the case of “People” (based on English language publications), there is little research in relation to Smart Industry. This is why all People-topics have a maturity of 0 or slightly above 0.
The arrows with a dashed line border represent the maturity of BMS research, which has been assessed based on the results of queries for each topic in the three layers, combined with the large query containing the names of the BMS research staff. The number of documents which have resulted from this search are mapped onto the aforementioned maturity levels, as follows: Maturity 0: Up to 50 documents; Maturity 1: Up to 250 documents; Maturity 2: Up to 500 documents; Maturity 3: More than 500 documents.