on December 14th, 2023

The ongoing wave of industrial revolutions, marked by changes in technology, shapes our societies. From steam engines in the First Industrial Revolution to the global connectivity of the Fourth, we now stand on the brink of the Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR).  

Unlike its predecessors, 5IR prioritizes collaboration between humans and machines, addressing the ethical use of technology.  

This article investigates the impact of 5IR on the engineering sector, highlighting a human-centric approach and the initiatives taken by institutions like the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT).  

It also explores the skills professionals need to thrive in this transformative era, emphasizing technical proficiency, soft skills, interdisciplinary approaches, and digital literacy. 

Dr. Akhlaqur Rahman and Dr. Hadi Harb, lecturers at EIT, give their expertise and insights into 5IR. 

What is the Fifth Industrial Revolution?  

Steam engine in the mid-1700s

Industrial revolutions mark periods of swift transformation driven by innovation. The inception of the First Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s was marked by the introduction of steam engines, which significantly impacted manufacturing by facilitating machine production and the establishment of factories.  

Following this, the Second Industrial Revolution harnessed the power of electricity in the late 1800s, ushering in an era of mass production and rapid transportation of people, goods, and ideas. The mid-1900s witnessed the onset of the Third Industrial Revolution (3IR), characterized by the advent of the digital age.  

Mainframe and personal computers, along with the Internet, interconnected consumers globally and facilitated extensive storage and dissemination of information. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), starting with the twenty-first century, features ubiquitous connectivity of machines, devices, and people, yielding essentially unlimited information that moves very quickly and effectively. The speed and scope of these information-based innovations warranted the distinction between the 3IR and 4IR.  

5IR revolves around the idea of fostering harmonious collaborations between humans and machines. It places a particular emphasis on the well-being of various stakeholders, including society, companies, employees, and customers. 

An article in Reginsights states that Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce sees 5IR this way, “I see a crisis of trust in technology,” he told the World Economic Forum.  

The challenges posed by the third and fourth industrial revolutions placed significant strains on both humans and the environment, requiring previous generations to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate machine capabilities. In contrast, 5IR marks a departure from this trend, placing human beings at the forefront of the production process. 

EIT lecturer, Dr. Akhlaqur Rahman said, “5IR is exciting for combining human skills with new technology. Unlike past revolutions, 5IR enhances human work with machines, rather than replacing it. replacing it. This era is marked by major advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, IoT, and biotech, leading to more personalized and innovative solutions. 5IR addresses big challenges like environmental sustainability, education, and health, using technology for good.” 

“It also aims for fairer economic growth, making sure technology helps everyone. Ultimately, 5IR is about a better connection between people and nature, guiding us towards the more ethical use of technology”, he added. 

The Fifth Industrial Revolution and Engineering  

The shift towards human-centric approaches in 5IR is likely to have a profound impact on the engineering sector.  

As human beings take center stage in the production process, engineers may find themselves engaged in designing and implementing technologies that prioritize collaboration between humans and machines. This could lead to the development of innovative solutions that enhance the well-being of both workers and the broader community. 

Fifth industrial revolution
Industry 5.0

Furthermore, a human-centric focus may influence the design of engineering solutions to be more adaptable and user-friendly, considering the diverse needs and capabilities of individuals involved in the industrial processes.  

Engineers might increasingly work on creating technologies that empower workers, promote inclusivity, and improve overall job satisfaction. 

With the emphasis on well-being and sustainability in 5IR, engineers may play a crucial role in developing environmentally friendly and socially responsible technologies. This could involve the integration of green practices, energy-efficient systems, and responsible manufacturing processes into engineering projects. 

The impact on the engineering sector is likely to manifest in a shift towards more human-centered, sustainable, and socially conscious technological advancements. 

Dr. Rahman emphasized that engineers are anticipated to embrace a future where computers and AI play a crucial role in enhancing the intelligence of designing and testing processes.  

This shift aligns with the expectation that engineering education will evolve, incorporating more extensive learning modules covering digital tools, ethics, and collaborative teamwork.  

Looking ahead, the integration of robots into workplaces alongside humans is foreseen, a development expected to contribute significantly to safer and more efficient job environments. This anticipates a broader shift in the engineering focus, where professionals are expected to redirect their efforts toward creating solutions that are not only innovative but also environmentally sustainable.  

Moreover, as the industry progresses, the utilization of big data is predicted to play a pivotal role, empowering engineers to make more informed and strategic decisions in their work. Dr. Rahman further emphasized the importance of cultivating a heightened ethical awareness among engineers, encouraging thoughtful consideration of the societal impact of their work. 

The Fifth Industrial Revolution and EIT  

EIT has embarked on a proactive initiative to align its courses with the evolving landscape of industry trends, notably adapting to the demands and transformations brought forth by the advent of 5IR. 

This strategic adjustment reflects EIT’s commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements and ensuring that its educational offerings remain relevant and responsive to the dynamic needs of the engineering sector. 

EIT lecturer, Dr. Hadi Harb stated, “In acknowledgment of the pivotal role that AI is poised to play in the future of engineering and 5IR, EIT has incorporated a range of AI-related courses across various academic programs.  

“These programs include the Master of Engineering (Industrial Automation), Bachelor of Science (Industrial Automation Engineering), Bachelor of Science (Electrical Engineering), 52872WA Advanced Diploma of Robotics and Mechatronics Engineering, and Professional Certificate of Competency in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. This strategic integration of AI courses is reflected in EIT’s master, bachelor, advanced diploma, and professional certificate programs.” 

In addition, Dr. Rahman added that EIT integrates with 5IR broadly by creating:  

Blended Learning: The institute combines traditional classroom experiences with digital and online methodologies, where students from all over the world can access advanced technologies, while being offered flexibility in learning. Thus, they are being prepared for a digital future. 

Curriculum Integration: EIT offers several courses and programs that include topics like AI, IoT, biotechnology, data science, and robotics into the curriculum, ensuring students are well-versed in the latest technological trends of 5IR. The institute was one of the first institutes to promote “Industrial Automation” as a program and now the students benefit from joining this course as the program allows EIT to prepare future Automation engineers for the next phase of the Industrial Revolution. 

Remote Lab Access: EIT remote labs allow students to conduct experiments and access equipment located in a different physical location via the Internet. This innovative approach allows students from all over the world to access industry-standard software as well as remotely controlled hardware equipment hosted at the EIT lab facilities. 

AI-enhanced learning Platforms: The institute is currently focusing on more integration of Artificial Intelligence and data analytics in different aspects of their operation, which includes student learning experiences, student assessments, student communication, data management, etc. 

Focus on sustainability: EIT’s courses provide emphasis on sustainability across their curriculum. 

Industry Partnerships: EIT attempts to collaborate with industries by allowing industry experts to provide seminars as well as teach at EIT. The institution also arranges industry site visits and workshops to provide them with access to the current state-of-the-art in the industry. 

How Engineers Can Keep Up with The Fifth Industrial Revolution  

In the landscape of 5IR, engineers and IT professionals need to develop a mix of technical, soft, and interdisciplinary skills to thrive: 

Professionals in the modern technological landscape require a diverse skill set to prosper. This includes expertise in Human-Machine Interaction, encompassing the ability to design, manage, and collaborate with intelligent systems, thereby enhancing interfaces between humans and machines.  

Additionally, individuals should possess competencies in sustainability and green technologies, demonstrating the capability to develop and implement environmentally friendly solutions, along with a deep understanding of green technology principles and renewable energy systems.  

Soft skills play a pivotal role, emphasizing strong communication, problem-solving, life-long learning, and creative thinking, as well as adaptability to diverse teams and rapidly changing environments. Advanced technical skills are imperative, involving proficiency in cutting-edge domains such as AI, machine learning, robotics, IoT, and biotechnology, coupled with an understanding of big data analytics, cyber security, and cloud computing.  

Rahman concludes that an interdisciplinary approach is vital, where knowledge from diverse fields like business, healthcare, arts, and social sciences are integrated into technology and engineering solutions. Moreover, digital literacy goes beyond basic technical skills, requiring individuals to comprehend, evaluate, and effectively utilize digital tools and platforms in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.  

References  

The Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR) and how it will change the business landscape 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – New Chances for Engineers 

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