‘Industrie 4.0’ is a term that originated in Germany around 2011. It describes the next generation of industrial production based on cyber-physical systems. The National Science Foundation defines a cyber-physical system as:
…the tight conjoining of and coordination between computational and physical resources. We envision that the cyber-physical systems of tomorrow will far exceed those of today in terms of adaptability, autonomy, efficiency, functionality, reliability, safety, and usability.
The closest thing to ‘Industrie 4.0’ in English has been suggested to be ‘The Internet of Things (IoT)’, which I feel isn’t correct as Industry 4.0 is really, as the name suggests, focused on industry.
So why 4.0? The idea is that we have already had 3 industrial revolutions. The first was the introduction of mechanical production systems powered by water and steam, such as the automatic loom. The second is when electrically powered assembly lines appeared, massively increasing production output. The third was the implementation of electronics and information technology into the production industry through the use of devices such as the programmable logic controller or PLC. As to why they say 4.0 instead of just 4 or 4th, I’m just guessing it sounds more modern and computery. Atleast they didn’t call it ‘iRevolution 4.0’…
So now Germany wants to bring this same idea to the water industry with the inventive name ‘Wasser 4.0’. Now we have a problem here, as recently a book was published in America called ‘Water 4.0’. Professor Sedlak already describes his 4 revolutions in the water industry in this book. Water 1.0 is the distribution of water in ancient Rome using pipes and canals. Water 2.0 is the treating of drinking water using filtration and chlorination. Water 3.0 is the development of wastewater treatment plants and sewage networks. This leads to his concept of Water 4.0 regarding technologies to deal with water shortages.
I think this is different to what the Germans wish to convey when they speak about ‘Water 4.0’. Water 4.0 is the same as Industry 4.0 but applied to the water industry, that is the digitalisation and networking of automation and monitoring systems and the introduction of smart technologies in water and wastewater treatment. In this example there aren’t any water 1.0’s or 2.0’s as Water 4.0 is just a copy of Industry 4.0 but for water.
However, I think there could be an image for Water 4.0 that describes the revolutions in the water industry over the past century in a simplified way. In this concept I would say the first water industry revolution was the usage of chemicals and sedimentation in the treatment of water and wastewater. The second revolution was the discovery of the activated sludge process for wastewater treatment in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. The third revolution was the implementation of membranes for desalination and wastewater treatment and recycling. The fourth revolution then matches up with that of ‘Industry 4.0’ with the implementation of advanced cyber-physical systems.
In the end, it will probably be another 100 years before we can really look back and say “That was when the 4th revolution occured in the water and wastewater industry”. At the moment it is still difficult to say what these 4.0 revolutions in industry and in water are even going to mean? Are we going to see a big increase in production and capability suddenly? Will everything be automated and everyone out of a job? Is there going to be a big adjustment where we enter a new golden (or dark) age or is it going to be just another little blip in history where there was lots of talk but not much really changed… Only time will tell.