Sustainability is important for Industry 4.0

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Norbert Gronau on sustainability and Industry 4.0

Generally speaking, sustainability is not a new topic. Originally, the term referred to the careful handling of the forest by their owners who removed only so much yield that in the future the generations to come were able to generate yield as well. At the end of the 1980s, the term re-entered the consciousness of industrialized countries because of the so-called Brundtland Report of the United Nations. This time it was focusing on the perspective of environmental protection and resource economics. Up until this point resources had been considered as essentially inexhaustible.

Today, sustainability is understood as the appropriate and future-oriented use of economic, social and ecological resources. Is this important when it comes to speaking about Industry 4.0? In my opinion: yes!

In private areas, we naturally accept the potential of a broad monitoring of our activities (music, television, use of computers, smart homes etc.) for an increase in comfort. The devices are constantly online or on standby mode, so that power consumption rises even though household appliances are becoming more and more frugal. Transferred to industry, this means that energy-saving effects are eaten up again, e.g., by increased digitization and the required sensor and computer usage. The largest energy consumer in the Karlsruhe area for example, is by no means the Daimler factory in Rastatt but the local branch of the Internet company Strato!

This example shows that in addition to economic aspects which have always shaped the design of production systems, ecological aspects must be taken into account as well - in cooperation with the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies a research group of my chair is working on corresponding guidelines. How does the social aspect come into play now? Here, now and in the future, we need a sustainable management of human resources. On one hand the severe shortage of skilled workers is forcing us to do so, while on the other hand there is an opportunity to give people who were not able to in the past, access to working life. Therefore, Industry 4.0 is also a great opportunity for social issues in threshold countries. Having recognized the potential, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa for example, wants to make South Africa an Industry 4.0 nation. We are proud to be involved in this task with our Research and Application Center for Industry 4.0. Sustainability may not be a new topic in the field of industry, but it is definitely an all-time relevant one!

© Prof. Dr.-Ing. Norbert Gronau, November 15, 2019, published at www.prof-gronau.de