Industry 4.0 Testlabs are an Australian Government initiative aiming to showcase and promote technologies which can improve the competitiveness of Australian businesses. The University of Western Australia’s Testlab is a state-of-the-art facility that will contribute to development of interoperability standards that will be critical to fully unlocking these improvements.

The University of Western Australia (UWA) is one of six universities to be selected for a national program, Industry 4.0 Testlab, that will work with industry to develop new technologies as part of the fourth industrial revolution (known as Industry 4.0).

“The fourth major industrial transformation is underway and just like those before it – mechanisation via the steam engine, mass production and assembly, and the replacement of analogue by digital technology – it is disrupting how products are manufactured and businesses operate,” Professor Eric May, Chevron Chair in Gas Process Engineering and Director of the new Industry 4.0 Testlab, said.

“Industry 4.0 refers to this current revolution that is seeing the interconnection of ‘smart’ devices across entire manufacturing and production processes, enabling the network of devices to self-diagnose errors, predict failures and maintenance issues in advance, and overall to operate continuously with minimal required human intervention.”

Industry 4.0 Testlabs are a strategic initiative of the Prime Minister’s Industry 4.0 Taskforce, which was formed in 2016 with the support of the Australian Government. The Taskforce is also working in close collaboration with the German Labs Network Industrie 4.0, the key organisation driving the development and deployment of Industry 4.0 Testbeds in Germany.

Located across Australia at leading research organisations in partnership with industry, Industry 4.0 Testlabs will play a central role in improving the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing industries through the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies and workforce transformation.

Testlabs will work with stakeholders from companies, industry and peak bodies, government, academia, professional societies and labour organisations, and the wider community to advance Industry 4.0.

“The national program is designed to prepare Australian businesses to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. As part of the program, small to medium sized businesses will be given free and open access to Testlab facilities and they will also have the opportunity to interact and collaborate with world-leading research partners,” Professor May said.

“The national network will accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0 skills in Australian workplaces and create an environment for businesses to grow while exploring new models and technologies.”

The Industry 4.0 Testlabs will showcase technologies such as advanced automation and robotics, machine-to-machine communication and sensor technology.

There are currently nine technologies integral to Industry 4.0. These are:

  • Big data and analytics
  • Autonomous robots
  • Simulation
  • Horizontal and vertical system integration
  • The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Cybersecurity
  • The cloud
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Augmented reality

A significant function of Industry 4.0 Testlabs will be to assist/advise small-medium enterprises (SMEs) with their digital transformation. To develop explicit knowledge and tacit understanding of digital transformation, Testlabs themselves will follow a similar digital transformation pathway as companies.

At the forefront of innovation

Professor May said that UWA was a recipient of a significant Siemens grant to support the introduction of Industry 4.0.

“As a result of the Siemens grant, UWA was invited to submit a proposal to the Australian Government Industry 4.0 Testlab Initiative. We are partnering with multiple organisations to ensure industry, education and training needs are met, with a specific focus relevant to Australia’s energy and resources sectors,” Professor May said.

“The proposal led to the UWA Industry 4.0 Testlab for Energy and Resources Digital Interoperability (ERDi Testlab) receiving a grant of $1 million in funding from the Australian Government’s Industry 4.0 Testlabs for Australia Initiative which is being matched by the university and industry.

“Industry 4.0 Testlabs in the national program will take advantage of their existing partnerships with industry, but they will also be engaging in outreach, hosting information and networking sessions, and creating value for small to medium sized businesses through open access.

“The other five universities in the program are Swinburne University of Technology, Queensland University, University of Technology Sydney, University of Tasmania and the University of South Australia.”

UWA will work with the energy and resources sector to develop and validate new technologies vital for the future. Some of the applications of these technologies include improved data collection and analytics to find faults more quickly, avoiding downtime for businesses.

Ensuring technologies are industry-ready

The UWA ERDi Testlab will provide the validation platform to test for Industry 4.0 commercial readiness in open process control systems using international standards.

The Testlab will specialise in Industry 4.0 interoperability standards from standards definition, research and development, testing of interoperable components and architectures, education and compliance testing.

It will enable organisations of any scale to:

  • Validate their technology readiness for an Industry 4.0 environment
  • Develop and improve their technology and architecture
  • Overcome technical problems
  • Lower technology risks
  • Increase technology adoption

“Most large industries are held captive by large, single software platforms that become increasingly costly with age. With these out-of-date software platforms, there are few opportunities for information transfer from one device to another. Enabling systems to ‘talk’ to one another despite their software type and software age is a big step forward,” Professor May said.

“In addition to this improvement in software ‘communication’, there is also the ability to improve the connections between processes. Often one process is developed in isolation, then another process is developed in the organisation, after some time, there are lots of processes but they are not connected together seamlessly. Industry 4.0 standards can support the interconnection of processes.

“The energy and resource sector faces challenges with hardware and software that currently cannot work together. The development of standards that ensure the hardware and software can interoperate will help prevent major problems as Industry 4.0 technologies are deployed in Australia.

“The UWA ERDi Testlab will support organisations in the energy and resources sector with their technology validation and their digital interoperability capability (their ability to work with other software systems). Any organisation will be able to test and validate that their equipment and software can support interoperability, which reduces the barriers for different pieces of software to work together.”

The UWA Testlab will be designed to integrate directly with the South Metropolitan TAFE Australian Centre for Energy and Process Training (ACEPT) Facility, the proposed LNG Futures Facility that will receive $10 million funding from the Western Australian Government over the next ten years, and with data feeds from mine sites and gas processing facilities. This will ensure the technologies developed and validated at the Testlab are industry-ready.

The UWA Testlab will be operational in the second half of 2019. Any organisation interested in the developments should register on the ERDi Testlab website at https://erditestlab.com/contact.

Lauren Butler

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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