Australia’s forward momentum towards Industry 4.0 is fast and furious. But when change is the only constant, it helps to have something keeping you grounded.
Methods for setting engineering standards haven’t changed all that much over time, which might be a good thing when you consider their purpose: to create a baseline to which all operators should perform. Still, it never hurts to revisit them every once in a while. This is especially true as we head into Industry 4.0, where the line between society and technology is blurred more than ever.
“Historically we’ve operated in physical systems, but now it’s very much a cyber-physical system,” said Bronwyn Evans, CEO of Standards Australia.
“Almost anything where we’re talking about the future will require a different way of thinking about the standards that govern these systems.”
The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities, for example, will demand seamless merging of physical and digital systems in Industry 4.0. More international business dealings mean we need to have protocols for cross-border data flow. Consumers are demanding a higher level of safety and accuracy from wearable products both medical and non-medical. And greater uptake of renewable energy by whole regions down to individual households complicates how different sources integrate with off-grid and on-grid systems.
It’s an exciting time for sure, but the pace of change demands a shift in how standards are set and why. Historically, setting standards has been more reactive, but the process is taking a more future-focused approach, Evans said.
Blockchain governance is one area where Australia is setting the pace thanks to early action. The Australian proposal for international standards for blockchain was approved last September, with Australia leading this important international standards creation work.
“We recognised this was going to be a new way of working across a range of industries, and we could see anyone with supply chains benefitting,” Evans said.
As we head into Industry 4.0, trend spotting like this will become increasingly important to solve issues with lag time between technological advancements and standards that plague some of today’s industries.
One example is in the IoT arena. There’s a proliferation of devices that enable everything to be measured and tested by everyday people as well as at the industrial level.
“How can we ensure the devices people use in their worlds can provide real-time data that benefits particular cities and society at large? This is a live issue,” Evans said.
“If we take advanced manufacturing as another example, which touches almost every sector, having a reference architecture is important. Australia needs to be involved with global partners – whether that’s Germany, Japan or the US – to make sure we’re working together on international standards.
“We all need a common reference point, a common language and a common way of working in the future of industry to drive innovation, productivity, economic efficiency and therefore competitiveness.”
Australia’s ability to set those international standards is a major benefit. Australian experts are active on 377 committees at the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and 125 International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) committees.
“Whenever a question is posed to us, our starting point is to ask, ‘Is there an international standard?’. If yes, then we need to figure out why should we do anything different,” Evans said.
“Just by doing that we make sure that Australia’s requirements, interests and expertise are part of building and developing international standards.”
Setting the agenda
The government’s new Growth Centres (GC), which capitalise on areas where Australia has a competitive advantage, will be an important part of this push. The GCs focus on: medical technology and pharmaceuticals; food and agribusiness; mining equipment technology and services; oil and gas; advanced manufacturing; and cyber security.
These GCs have a laundry list of tasks, from improving collaboration between research and industry, to improving workforce skills, identifying opportunities to address regulatory issues, and improving our ability to be part of a global supply chain.
That’s the way forward, said Evans.
“It’s about taking an industry-led approach – bringing industry and research together, driving innovation, productivity and competitiveness. The Growth Centres will look at roadmaps to achieve those, what standards exist and which ones we need in the future.”
This might include adopting ‘living lab’ approaches, where industry leaders experiment and prototype, and provide near real-time input into standards development through committee structures in new and emerging areas.
There’s a lot to still work out, but it’s likely that a couple of categories of standards will emerge as a result. Some will provide stability and consistency, touching on interoperability (or the ability of devices to effectively speak to one another); others will need to be agile and responsive, and might focus on things like terminology, so we have a ‘light touch’, but a common baseline approach in the marketplace.
Two successful examples of this approach are the recently published standard AS ISO 16739:2017, Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for data sharing in the construction and facility management industries and the newly published Digital Hospital Handbook.
The first example is an identical adoption of the international standard ISO 16739. This standard establishes a data schema and an exchange file format for building information model (BIM) data. The adoption of this standard fits within the government’s wider goal of improving productivity, quality and sustainability within the Australian built environment sector.
The second example not only defines what the term ‘digital hospital’ means, but it also offers a template for the creation of a digital hospital and more importantly, an achievable level of digitisation for each hospital – irrespective of capital.
The handbook offers a common language and enterprise architecture from the design stage to not only allow digital devices to talk to each other, but for patients and staff members to access the same profile of care and efficiency, regardless of which hospital they visit. This matters for the health industry and is a world first, Evans said.
“Being able to give that foundation and then give market confidence will be key elements for standards no matter where they are in history.”