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Industry 4.0 and the buildings of tomorrow: How new technology is transforming the smart building world

Technological changes are transforming the world we live in at a greater rate than ever before.

Terms like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and big data, might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but together they are driving a fourth industrial revolution – also known as Industry 4.0.

This article will explore the concept of Industry 4.0, what it is, how it is evolving and what this means for the future of smart buildings.

What is industry 4.0?

In simple terms, Industry 4.0 is another name for the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – the current era of technological advancement, which is enabling business and industry to grow and change at an unprecedented rate, increasing automation, reducing the need for hands-on human interaction and enabling us to use data to create intelligent buildings and systems.

Unlike previous revolutions, characterised by physical items like large-scale machinery or new modes of transport, this new revolution is quieter and stealthier, driven predominantly by data. It uses new technologies to capture and interpret it, before automating systems and processes in response, ensuring businesses are operating at maximum efficiency.

In short, it’s about connectivity – linking together buildings, their systems, machinery, appliances and devices, making processes smoother, and reducing the human input needed.

German engineer Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes it as “a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries.”[1]
[1] https://www.weforum.org/about/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-by-klaus-schwab

 

How does it apply to smart buildings?

It is no longer just individual pieces of machinery that can be made “intelligent” but whole buildings. The concept of smart buildings and the use of smart sensors has been around for several years, but is still not commonplace across the board.

The advance of Industry 4.0 means that within the next decade this will have shifted significantly. Advances in technology will mean creating smart buildings will become cheaper, easier and more accessible to all.

The way buildings are designed, constructed, operated and maintained must adapt to keep pace. Owners of all buildings, not just new builds, will begin to realise the possibilities that smart technology offers by helping their buildings “talk”. Smart sensors can collect data on a range of variables at a granular level, allowing facilities managers a far greater insight into the running of their buildings and the best ways to make changes.

 

How will building owners/managers benefit?

Smart sensors and associated Industry 4.0 technology give building managers access to a previously unimaginable amount of data.

The three key areas where this will most benefit facilities managers and business owners are:

  • Making energy efficiencies: Being able to see and respond to granular data in real-time enables you to ensure energy is only being used exactly where and when it is needed and cut out wastage – something that is increasingly important as industry strives to meet carbon-reduction targets.
  • Creating environments where people want to live and/or work: Smart sensors enable you to do everything from reduce the humidity of an area to adjusting lighting, to reducing waiting times for meeting rooms or lifts, helping processes flow more efficiently.
  • Predictive maintenance: In the same way that smart sensors are helping factories reduce their costs by flagging up potential maintenance issues in advance, the same can be said within smart buildings. Sensors will highlight issues like overuse, damp, humidity or excessive power surges.

Of course, the knock-on effect of all these is that costs will be reduced across the board, both in terms of the amount spent on energy use, but also on streamlining processes and reducing wastage.

 

What next? How do I ensure my systems are future-proof?

The key to making the most of the opportunities afforded by smart sensor data is to ensure that the changes being made as a result of the information collected happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.

At the moment, vast amounts of data are sent to the cloud where it can then be interpreted and acted upon, but this usually requires a degree of human intervention. Fully-automated buildings will be able to use technology that interprets the data and can make the interventions itself – for example, if a room is too hot, the air-conditioning will automatically be turned up by a few degrees.

This is happening in some places already but, for many smaller businesses, this level of technology is currently inaccessible due to the costs of it – something that is likely to change rapidly over the course of the next decade as advances are made.

Whilst the rapid rate of change means no-one can accurately predict all the developments coming our way, it makes sense for anyone investing in smart technology now to keep one eye on the future, and the best way of doing this is to ensure your systems have interoperability and will be compatible with future developments, either from the same company or other companies that may advance at a faster rate. For example, ensuring your equipment works on a universal wireless standard like the EnOcean protocol means it will be easier to add to and adapt your smart solutions in years to come.


To talk to us about making your buildings smart for the future get in touch.

 

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