The Internet of things, Industry 4.0 and proactive maintenance are certainly terms that are beginning to be used within the industry.

Industry 4.0 essentially describes a trend towards data gathering, data exchange and automation through technologies that include cyber-physical systems (CPS), the internet of things (IoT), industrial internet of things (IIoT), cloud computing, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.

In many ways the panels industry is ahead of the game in terms of this technology, with fully integrated plants being controlled centrally the efficiencies are perceptible.

However, Industry 4.0 can take the automation to the next level, with the plant being able to self-diagnose failures and self-predict, with a good degree of certainty, the need for maintenance. This will certainly bring advantages to companies in terms of the lifetime of the machinery, decreased downtime and the reduction in capital tied up in the spare parts inventory.

The advantages created within the factory will be a major asset to the industry however – a future can be envisaged when the essentials of Industry 4.0 are transferred to the built environment and an era of ‘Building Maintenance 4.0’ is entered into.

This is a new research field that the BioComposites Centre is involved in through a new ERDF funded project ‘Smart Energy Efficiency Centre‘. SEEC brings together a team of data scientists, models and experts in sensing to work across three application areas including the built environment.

Through the SEEC project we will not only investigate the implementation of Building Maintenance 4.0 to predict the potential for failure in the building infrastructure but also to optimise a building or room for the inhabitants to provide the optimum working conditions on an individual basis.

But what has this to do with the panels industry?

If Building Maintenance 4.0 is to become a reality then the intrinsic building materials as well as the environment will have to be monitored. Sensors built into wall make-ups and the materials themselves will be commonplace.

The potential for a panel to recognise that it is beginning to deform by the inclusion of a strain gauge within the panel that can accurately sense the changes within the panel and feed them back to a model that will be able to use other sensors to predict why the strain is occurring and control the building infrastructure to prevent catastrophic failure within the panel and the wall make up. Or for panels that can sense the on-set of decay before it becomes a problem.

For this to happen sensors will be part of the fabric of our materials and added at the point of manufacture, the potential to add value to the panels and products could be as great as the added value through lamination and coatings and the development of synergistic alliances between the materials manufacturers, the software developers and building maintenance companies would mean a strong customer base.

The industry 4.0 and building maintenance 4.0 are becoming a reality and there is the potential for the wood based panels sector to build on the tradition of innovation and lead the way in terms of the development of materials for the future of smart buildings.