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Discussion: Are We ready to Take On IR4.0?


The rapid advancement of technology has brought about the era of Industry 4.0 (IR 4.0), revolutionizing various sectors and redefining how we live and work.

In a recent interview, a panel of esteemed UM researchers shed light on their extensive research in IR 4.0 and its implications for the industrial landscape. Collaborating with industrial players and government entities, these experts have been at the forefront of driving progress in IR 4.0, bridging gaps, and exploring the potential of emerging technologies. From system integration and simulations to the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), the interview delves into the intricacies of IR 4.0, its challenges, benefits, and the need for a holistic approach.

Join us as we delve into their insights, uncovering the transformative power of IR 4.0 and its impact on the future of industries.


 
Q: Could you share with us a little bit about your research and how your research contributes to IR4.0?

Assoc. Prof. Dr Yap Hwa Jen

"In collaboration with industrial players and government entities, our research since 2014 has allowed us to work on the major pillars of IR4.0.

Our continuous research on and within these pillars has enabled us to understand the pros and cons of each pillar towards the industry and allowed us to conduct mature research that delivers quality output for bridging gaps.

For instance, UM is specializing in boosting system integration to allow multiple pillars of IR4.0 to work together to amply the effectiveness of a system.

Moreover, we have pioneered simulation that includes real-time Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) simulations to assist industrial training, maintenance, and manufacturing in collaboration with the industry partners, such as Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) and AIRBUS."



Q: Can you explain IR 4.0 briefly and what are its main features and what are the differences of IR 4.0 with the other stages? In addition, do you think we are lagging as now the industrial revolution has already reached 5.0?

Prof. Dr Loo Chu Kiong

"With the invention of the steam engine and electricity in IR 1.0 and IR 2.0 respectively, we have extended our physical capacity.

Through IR 3.0, we were able to automate mindless tasks. Now, in IR 4.0, we have managed to extend our minds by encoding logic into machines. However, the development of IR 5.0 contrasts with IR 4.0 as it is not driven by technology, but by values. "



"The goal is to create a manufacturing process that acknowledges the importance of a life worth living. Using IR4.0 as a base, we can enhance the system via a few changes to the grounding philosophy.

We now have the goal of having the manufacturing process on a virtual platform, which highlights the need for human-centricity, sustainability and resilience of the industrial platform.

This way, we can overcome unforeseen challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw massive shutdowns in industry, by reducing the need for humans to put themselves into dangerous situations."


Professor Ir. Dr. Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman

To me, the IR stages cannot be seen separately and must be seen as building from prior knowledge. When we started IR 1.0, our prior knowledge was little. Then based on that limited prior knowledge, we leaped into IR 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0. We created machines because humans needed assistance from fellow robots and machines to improve the efficiency of our processes.


Now, we are realizing that we are missing the societal aspect. We are solving new issues as they arise from different stages. It is a natural progression. We are now just moving into a stage where more emphasis is given to integration and focusing on a more holistic approach. A newer and better version is always built upon previous versions. It does not mean that the prior knowledge is now irrelevant. That is how I see IR and its stages.


Q: As an academic, is academic research on artificial intelligence significantly different from its applications in industry and you know how far we have come technologically better than most. Does industry reflect the level of technological progress we have made in IR4.0?

Associate Professor Dr. Chan Chee Seng

"Nowadays, the academic research on AI is no longer significantly different from its applications in industry. The main reason is the existence of research institutions such as Google, META AI, Tesla etc, and the ever-growing open-source community such as GitHub to share resources.

Thus, it is not surprising that most of the top professors or researchers have been hired from their respective academic institutions to become the lead in these industries."


Assoc. Prof. Dr Yap Hwa Jen

"Academic AI seems to be advancing fast if we only focus on the defined outcome. To illustrate, a simple image recognition process is now a multi-fold faster thanks to AI.

However, this is only at TRL-4. But when it comes to actual implementation, there are tons of physical factors that inhibit a simple AI system from achieving its defined goals such as light intensity, signal ambiguity, and processing power fluctuation. "



"In other words, for it to be successful and reliable in an industrial setting, it needs to be at TRL-9. We believe the transition from TRL-4 to beyond is a challenging task for the AI field now. In terms of unique drawbacks, previous industrial advancements had required people who were in the system (company or organization) only.

However, IR 4.0 requires a lot of output from different domains such as Information Technology (IT), systems engineering, embedded systems are often impossible for a single entity (company) to cultivate. To overcome this, we must adopt a mutualistic business behaviour by sharing each other’s strengths to advance each other’s “connectivity”."


Q: What are the unique challenges and drawbacks of IR4.0?

Associate Ts. Dr. Rafidah Binti Md Noor

"Challenges and drawbacks of IR 4.0 are not limited to these:

  • Data Sensitivity and Security: Massive amounts of data generated by the devices/sensors lead to data sensitivity and security. Not all organizations are ready to share their data to third-party providers/developers. Open data to other parties may cause data leaking and vulnerable for attack, Therefore, it is important to keep the data secure within the organization boundaries.

  • Managing Large Volumes of Data: The industry needs skilled professionals to handle and manage large volumes of data through modern technology tools. Various industry domains produce data in different ways and data often comes with different underlying semantics that must be disambiguate.

  • Higher Operational Utilization: The assumption for IR 4.0 is that the next industrial revolution would allow enterprises to extract more output from the same resource input, resulting in even better profitability.

  • Talent: New technical skills are required for a new, process-dependent system of the use latest technology may pose a major challenge to the existing employees. The manufacturing companies need to pay greater attention to recruiting skilled employees or investing in their training to develop employee’s competency level."


Many claims that IR 4.0 only advantageous to the middle- and upper-income classes, in your opinion, has the rural communities in Malaysia fully benefited from IR 4.0 and how it would benefit the SME and micro industry? Will it caused further enlarge the gap between mega-, medium, small, and micro industry in Malaysia?

Professor Ir. Dr. Abdul Aziz

"No.

Previously, it was expensive to buy a phone but now it is accessible. "

"Technology is cheaper now and people have pieces of technology in their houses. Today, ordinary folks can conduct online businesses from their houses through e-commerce. This requires IR 4.0 technology with specific tools and technology. People have benefitted from it, depending on which angle you’re looking at whether it’s the producer or consumer lens.

If we are looking at it from the SME and micro industry, of course the bigger players would benefit more but so do the smaller Abdul Rahman industries. In fact, they are more versatile. In this current globalized world, you must play the game to win.


Each sides have their own challenges and opportunities.

In that sense, IR 4.0 does not contribute to the widening of the gap between SME, micro, and big industries. It boils down to how they approach their own unique set of challenges and how they rise above it."


Q: In your opinion, how can students embrace the concept of IR 4.0 in their studies and what are the roles of the stakeholders when it comes to IR 4.0 implementation in the university level? In 2021, do you think the campus community is well versed on IR 4.0 and is the campus community well-equipped with IR 4.0 knowledge?

Associate Ts. Dr. Rafidah Binti Md Noor

"To meet the expectations of future employment, students must be educated with technology-ready skills that will enable them to prosper in their future workplace. Many say that education has been slow to adapt to rapid technological changes, leaving students unprepared for the world they will inherit in the future.

However, adapting and operating the IR 4.0 technologies alone are not sufficient. Critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity are also crucial skills for the students. Therefore, educational institutions have integrated these soft skills into the curriculum so that the students are prepared."


What is the state of research on the Internet of Things? Is it (research) significantly different from industrial implementation? Recently, the entirety of Facebook (now Meta), went down due to a mistake in a server update patch, and this is not the only instance of server failure on a massive scale. In an internet of things, how are we making efforts to minimize disruption to daily life, knowing that these systemic failures are possible?
What is the significance of the Internet of Things in IR 4.0?

Associate Professor Dr. Chan Chee Seng

"The internet connectivity does play a part for the utilization of IR4.0 in the country, but with the country is rolling out the 5G network, and target of approximately 80% coverage in populated areas by end of 2024, there is no excuse of this. Personally, I would say we are at the borderline, but for a nation such as Malaysia, we should be in a better position."


Associate Ts. Dr. Rafidah Binti Md Noor

"With the aid of interconnection via the IoT, access to real-time data, and the introduction of cyber-physical systems, IR 4.0 pushes the emphasis on digital technology from previous decades to a whole new level. IR 4.0 takes a more holistic, interconnected, and complete approach to production. It bridges the gap between the physical and digital worlds, allowing for improved cooperation and access across departments, partners, vendors, products, and people. IR 4.0 enables business leaders to have a deeper understanding of and control over every element of their operations, as well as to use real-time data to increase efficiency, streamline procedures, and accelerate growth."


Q: The benefits of IoT in IR 4.0 include increased efficiency, reduced mistakes, predictive maintenance, increased safety, and cost savings. It will also provide vertical networking of smart manufacturing systems, allowing for more customer-specific responses to current changes in supply or demand.
In your opinion, what are the major obstacles that may stunt the University’s progress and obstacles in teaching the campus toward fully embracing IR
4.0?

Professor Ir. Dr. Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman

"Changing the mindset of the students. If we in academia take teaching as simply delivering the syllabus, then not much can be done. We must take it as a responsibility to nurture students to make a change. Companies are looking to hire people that can bring value to them. Thus, students with a good mindset are crucial and it remains a difficult challenge to tackle."


Q: What is the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in IR4.0?

Prof. Dr Loo Chu Kiong

"Advancements in technology are like digital twins that enable us to adapt interactions between humans and machines which reduces a great deal of maintenance problems and costs. This allows us to digitise not only the information, but also the machine itself, by reflecting the physical characteristics of the machine on a simulation and putting it on a virtual reality (VR) platform.

This eliminates the need for physical human presence in the factory, while allowing the simulated machine to run in a fairly realistic way, which in turn makes the manufacturing line easier to maintain. AI is important because it is the brain behind these intelligent machines."


Q: With increased emphasis on sustainability in development, do you believe that Malaysia can market itself as a “green partner”?

Prof. Dr Loo Chu Kiong

"In terms of green potential, we still retain large swathes of rainforest and high levels of biodiversity. Coupled with the geographical advantages of our location, we may find it easier to meet carbon footprint requirements making us attractive to certain industries. If planned carefully and done right, Malaysia can become a hub for green technology in the region."

 

Interviewed, written and copy-edited by: Nurul Alis Sarah Bidin & Lauren Ashley Lopez


Researchers:

Professor Ir. Dr. Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Raman is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Development), University of Malaya. Previous positions held by him include Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs), Dean of Faculty of Engineering, Director of Centre of Innovation & Commercialization and Director of Community & Industry Relations Centre. His research interests are in mixing using stirred vessels, green technology and advanced wastewater treatment.


Prof. Dr. Loo has conducted fascinating research over the last eight years in The University of Malaya, particularly in addressing the central problem of Artificial Intelligence about continual learning without catastrophic forgetting. His numerous publications on the topic have been well-received and have made a substantial contribution to the kernel-based theoretical framework for Adaptive Resonance Theory.


Assoc. Prof. Dr Yap Hwa Jen is an Associate Professor and area of interest in research includes Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Manufacturing (VM), Product Design, Artificial Intelligence, Sports Engineering, Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0), Robotics (Industrial Robots & Collaborative Robots, Cobot) and Automation.


Assoc. Prof. Ts. Dr. Rafidah Md Noor is currently a Head for Centre of Research (COR), Mobile Cloud Computing. Rafidah’s research is related to a field of transportation system in computer science research domain.


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chan Chee Seng's research interests include computer vision and machine learning with focus on scene understanding. He is also interested in the interplay between vision and language - generating sentential descriptions about complex scenes.


Interviewed and Authors: Nurul Alis Sarah Bidin (nurulalissrh@gmail.com) & Lauren Ashley Lopez (s2125482@siswa.um.edu.my)



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