The Fourth Industrial Revolution
We are in the midst of a fundamental transformation that will radically change the way we live, work and interact with each other. This transformation began before COVID-19 but has accelerated through the pandemic. Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, speaks in this context of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which will be in its scale, scope and complexity a transformation, unlike anything humanity has ever experienced. Although we do not know yet precisely how it will unfold, the expected changes must be integrated comprehensively and inclusively (Schwab 2017).
The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production; the second used electrical energy to create mass production; the third used electronics and information technology to automate production. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, is building on the third which has been developing since the middle of last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that blurs the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological spheres.
Diagram 1: Four industrial revolutions
The Fourth Industrial Revolution differs from its predecessors in speed, scope and impact on systems. Moreover, this revolution will affect almost every industry in every country. The breadth and depth of these changes mark the transformation of the entire production, management and leadership systems.
Quality infrastructure and Industrial Revolutions
What are the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Quality Infrastructure (QI)? QI and its components have developed and changed in parallel with the industrial development stages. The metre contract of 1875 falls in the middle of the first industrial revolution. After mechanics, the metrologists developed electrical engineering and chemistry. At the same time, the system of standards and accreditation developed. Today, we find the concept of Industry 4.0 also in an adaptation called Metrology 4.0, Normalisation 4.0 and Accreditation 4.0. Therefore, it is only consistent and understandable that Germany, the pioneer of Industry 4.0, is particularly active in the conception of a Quality Infrastructure 4.0.
The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) is one of the promoters of Metrology 4.0 in Germany. Researchers and technicians are working in various projects for the digitalisation of metrology (Eichstädt 2018).
The industrial metrology is developing a machine-readable calibration certificate and the corresponding infrastructure, which will enable calibration laboratories and companies to exchange related certificates digitally. The result is mutual recognition of validity, increased transparency and reduced transaction costs.
Diagram 2: The digital calibration certificate
In legal metrology, PTB supports industry and market surveillance authorities in smart metering and the measurement of e-mobility. At the same time, PTB is working at the European level to create a Metrology cloud which supports traceability and verification of measurements.
Finally, PTB is researching virtual measuring instruments, developing testable algorithms and working on the harmonisation of digital measuring methods. With radiofrequency technology, the institute is laying the metrological foundations for the new mobile phone standard.
Equally, standardisation focusses on digitisation. The networking of devices, machines and people via the Internet is causing a dynamically growing data traffic. Therefore, an internationally agreed standard that allows intelligent integration of systems across all domains and hierarchies is needed. Industry 4.0 can only become a reality if digitalisation and standardisation go hand in hand.
Together with leading industry associations, the German Standard-Institute (DIN) has taken the lead and developed an Industry 4.0 standardisation strategy to initiate and coordinate related standardisation activities. The German Standards Council orchestrates the interests of national players and participates equally in international cooperation to promote global standards for intelligent manufacturing (DIN 2018).
At the international level, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have established the Smart Manufacturing Coordinating Committee (SMCC). The Committee promotes the international exchange of information and works on the mapping of smart manufacturing standards. Other standards committees deal with automation systems and integration (ISO/TC 184), artificial intelligence ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC 42 or robotics ISO/TC 299. Together, the various standard initiatives provide the framework for global digital value chains. Strategic fields of action are the autonomy, interoperability and sustainability of the industrial ecosystem of the future.
The opportunities for Industry 4.0 employment matter also for conformity assessment and accreditation. Representatives of UKAS, the accreditation body in the United Kingdom, see opportunities to strengthen their role and that of the testing, inspection and certification (TIC) industry as a “trusted partner” in the networking of value chains and at the same time to be a driving force for new technologies (Deshpande 2017). Accreditation underpins confidence in systems and software for automation, mobile payments or driverless cars, and contributes to the responsible handling of confidential information and data protection. Conformity assessment bodies are already active in information and cybersecurity, eGaming, digital forensics and software testing. Some accredited certification and inspection bodies have already developed cloud-based systems to provide better insight to customers and their supply chains.
A study on ledger technologies (Blockchain) concludes that “markets for voluntary standards” could benefit in the areas of taxonomies and performance, data governance and liability, and commercial governance (Deshpande 2017). Markets for voluntary standards as a commercial system could be designed in such a way that buyers and providers of products and services could rely on accredited conformity assessments.
Digitalisation also influences the relationship with the accreditation bodies’ customers. Increasingly, self-service and digital platforms are being developed to support the management of their assessments. Data analysis will improve the supervision of conformity assessment bodies through the continuous monitoring of competence and performance analyses. In doing so, UKAS stresses that accreditation, the TIC industry and other traditional quality infrastructure partners remain relevant and continue to build confidence. Cooperation between quality infrastructure partners at home, as well as with foreign standardisation bodies, accreditation bodies and representatives of the TIC sector is necessary and desirable.
The examples from metrology, standardisation and accreditation show that all areas of the Quality Infrastructure are intensively integrating the concept of Industry 4.0 and are participating in the digital transformation. Digitalisation requires that the institutions of the Quality Infrastructure restructure themselves internally and changing their services and how they are delivered fundamentally. As a result, the Quality Infrastructure will gain in flexibility, interoperability and speed.
The next challenge is to relate and integrate the activities in the different components more closely. Quality Infrastructure 4.0 would have to focus precisely on system integration and interoperability. The UN Organisation for Industrial Development therefore sees a need to rebuild the Quality Infrastructure (UNIDO 2019). However, this rebooting must not only support the digitisation of industry but also contribute to economically, ecologically and socially sustainable development.
Deshpande, Advait/ Stewart, Katherine/ Lepetit, Louise/ Gunashekar, Salil (2017). Distributed Ledger Technologies/Blockchain: Challenges, opportunities and the prospects for standards, May 2017, Prepared for the British Standards Institution (BSI), London
Bohun, Mark (2019). Accreditation 4.0: Adapting to a new revolution, Blog post
DIN (2018). German Standardization Roadmap Industrie 4.0, Berlin
Eichstädt, Sascha (2018). Metrology for the Digitalization of the Economy and Society, Braunschweig
Hackel, Siegfried/ Härtig, Frank / Hornig, Julia/ Wiedenhöfer, Thomas (2017). The Digital Calibration Certificate, PTB-Mitteilungen 127
ISO (2018). The new industrial Revolution, ISO focus, November-December 2018, Number 131
Schwab, K. (2017). The fourth industrial revolution. New York
Thiel, Florian (2018). Opens external link in new window – Digital transformation of legal metrology – The European Metrology Cloud, OIML Bulletin, vol. LIX, 2018(1), pp. 10-21
UNIDO (2019). Rebooting Quality Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future. Vienna
Feature picture by Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com
I have to say that I find the meaning of the figures less than self-evident. In fact, to be frank, Diagram 2 has defeated me entirely.
Many thanks for the hint. You are right, illustrations should be easy to understand or explained in the text. I have exchanged or deleted the diagrams.
Thank you: apprecaite your responsiveness!
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Dear Ulrich, thank you very much for this interesting review and the references included. By the way, concerning the German Standardization Roadmap Industrie 4.0 produced by DIN/DKE, there is already available a Version 4 since march 2020. Kind regards, Joaquín
Thank you, Joaquín, for informing about the update of the German Standardization Roadmap. Yes, the 4th edition is out and emphasises the interoperability. By this DIN and VDE mean that machines in networked digital eco-systems communicate with each other in an interoperable way. Only a high degree of interoperability ensures networking across company and industry boundaries. This requires standards and integration, a uniform regulatory framework, decentralised systems and artificial intelligence,
In the joint webinar “Charlas con Ulrich” by Colombian National Accreditation Body (ONAC) and Mesopartner, we delved further into the topic. The discussion partners were William O’Neill, Manager of Accreditation Services at Standards Council of Canada (SCC), and Ferney Chaparro, director at ONAC and Inter-American Accreditation Council (IAAC) Multilateral Agreement (MLA) chair.
A video recording and a Spanish translation of the blog can be found at,