Merging I4.0 Technology With The Circular Economy – The Inevitable Solution

09/07/2021 08:26 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.
By :
Dr M Shahrul Azmi M Yusoff

Over the past few years, one could never escape the revolution of Industry 4.0 (I4.0) hysteria. The social awareness on the driving technologies within the pillars of I4.0 is at an all-time high. With the pandemic forcing a halt to physical mobility, society adopted the digital transformation at an exponential rate. Be it the multimillion dollar business meetings or laidback coffee chats, online video conference is the method of choice although too peculiar to many before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I4.0 drives the convergence of data through the digital platform. In enabling that to happen, the four elements of science are adopted seamlessly i.e. the digitalisation of data, availability of clouds, internet of things and smart computing. Using your mobile, you can now access the office, restaurants, classes or even the mosque; all thanks to the four elements of science and the mercy of the Almighty.

Figure 1 : The four key elements of Industry 4.0

Mother Nature works in a manner of just by the balancing of resources with the growth of inhabitants. It is a simple working principle but too often disrupted by the greed of humans and, therefore, leveraging the needs of growth to the natural production of resources has been the missing formula for decades. We have been stuck in the linear economy for ages, where most of the natural resources harvested and transformed to their irreversible form, however, end up in landfills while they are still largely functional.

Imagine the plastic bottle that we use that contains no more than 300 ml of water to kill our thirst. The time taken for that natural process of producing the petroleum used to make the polymer that makes up the plastic bottle is approaching infinity to the length of time taken to finish the drinks. Confusing it may be because the concept of linear economy has been embedded in our lives that we take the process within the supply chain of the bottle for granted. What if the life of the bottle can be extended by recycling or the method of containing the water can be altered to reduce the usage of resources?

Ellen MacArthur Foundation provided a good definition of the Circular Economy (CE), which defines CE as a “restorative and regenerative system by design”. The purpose is to keep products, components, and materials at their maximum usefulness and value. With the increase in value, we can delay the harvesting of new resources. Hence, Mother Nature can heal and produce more for the future generation. The concept would require effort of finding the right user at the right time for every steps of the supply chain, impossible it may seem if one doesn’t have the information they need of others.

Figure 2 : The comparison of linear vs circular economy

A piece of garbage to you can be a treasure to others but granting the garbage to the right person would be impossible without knowing who that soul is. Notice the preloved item digital marketplace, where exchanges of goods being made between two souls with opposite intentions, disposing vs receiving? Exchange of this data via digital platform allows the extension of life to the products, thanks to the technologies of I4.0. The scenario is evidence to the greatest potential solution to mankind resources depletion problem, through the hybrid of circular economy and industrial 4.0. This synergy is indeed at its infancy stage. Attention must be given to the crafting of governance that will ensure the honesty of the distribution.


Dr M Shahrul Azmi M Yusoff is the Director for the Industrial Centre of Innovation in SMART Manufacturing at SIRIM Industrial Research, SIRIM.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)