EA: How Quality Infrastructures support transition to Industry 4.0

The 2021 edition of the International Congress of Metrology, held in Lyon, France, closed its doors on 9th September 2021. It was the first time the Congress was organised based on a hybrid model: conferences and roundtable talks being held simultaneously in Lyon and broadcasted online to the registered participants. This new model was very successful.

EA has been a partner of the Congress for 20 years and routinely present on the roundtables. In 2021, Maureen Logghe, the EA President, was accepted as a key speaker on the roundtable on “The Role of Metrology and Quality Infrastructures in the Transition to Industry 4.0”. We asked Maureen for her feedback on the event.

Being a speaker in a hybrid format, Maureen explains, creates new constraints and invites you to be creative when communicating to the public and presenting remotely. It takes some time to adapt to the hybrid model, particularly when engaging with participants you can see and, at the same time, those you cannot see and are raising their questions in writing only. Normally you would be able to interact directly with the audience, you can read the faces and how well your message has been received. This is not the case however, when you cannot see the participants on the other side of the screen. You have to change your method of communication to make sure all questions are answered and issues are communicated clearly. Exciting challenge!

On 8th September, the roundtable brought together all main actors of the international quality infrastructure involved in one way or another in what we call Industry 4.0. The EA President sat at the table with representatives of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC),, Organisation Internationale de Métrologie Légale (OIML), Industry, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

All recognised that Industry 4.0 is no longer an issue for future discussion but rather a challenge we are facing at present. In our daily life we already use ‘connected’ objects and the internet is present in every facet of life, as illustrated by our ILAC colleague in their presentation on digital energy meters in our house. In industry or services, the applications of digitalisation are many and create new challenges for metrology, calibration, conformity assessment and accreditation, but also standardisation and regulations.

In Europe, the European Commission made Industry 4.0 a key European-wide challenge with a number of projects and initiatives in the Information & Communication Technology fields. Cybersecurity is just one example. The Cybersecurity Act will cover many areas, products, processes, supporting higher security and performance while protecting personal data. European legislations have for some time already incorporated in their contents the key challenges brought forward by Industry 4.0. however legislation should be future proof.

On the standardisation side, ISO/IEC 17011 has proved very recently to be up-to-date and fit for purpose as it already contained a definition of remote assessments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, its requirements enabled accreditation and accredited bodies to maintain their services remotely with the same level of reliability, competence and confidence. The standard requirements could be translated readily in the new procedures and processes supporting remote assessments. Working from home, by definition, has led to further development of existing and the introduction of new digital processes. ISO/IEC 17011, and the standards used for accreditation have not been an obstacle or a technical barrier. National Accreditation Bodies and Conformity Assessment Bodies have proven to be able to adapt and continue to meet the requirements. It has helped avoid discontinuity and maintain the quality chain in the market.

Testing of medical masks is a good example of how well the chain has been maintained, with manufacturers having to produce very quickly a lot of masks, laboratories to carry out the relevant tests and meet the urgent and big demand, accreditation bodies to perform the assessment of the labs and, ultimately, deliver accreditations to give confidence in the masks placed on the market.

The discussions around the table showed that all parties involved share converging views, interests and approaches. Industry 4.0 is not in the future, but in the present. Regulation, standardisation, conformity assessment, accreditation, all have had to adapt and anticipate “present future” changes. The issues of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence have been touched upon several times. Developing use of digital technologies, IA in particular in the many areas of metrology, calibration or in decision making processes gives rise to new challenges for conformity assessment and accreditation. All involved have to keep up with innovation and technology. EA and its members have proven to be innovative, developing use of technologies in their operations and taking up the new questions arising from use and exchange of personal data. Remote assessments have been implemented. Today, we are at the stage of sharing feedback and experience to reinforce our procedures while maintaining the necessary harmonisation. Back in 2017, EA had clearly prioritised digitalisation in its strategic development plan and now we can pick the fruits.

Even if convinced that the digital route is the route for the future, we have to be prudent. In the accreditation field, it cannot be sufficient just to only observe CAB staff performing tests and analyses remotely, there is still a need for further onsite assessment to see how they work. The human dimension is a major asset in conformity assessment processes. The purpose of accreditation remains confidence, it has not changed, and it cannot be based on virtual control only. Competence still needs face-to-face meetings, interviews and interaction. How to combine the tools and approaches will be the next challenge. It is already on the agenda for EA technical committees and EA members have a lot of experience to share, in many areas, from many different contexts and environments.

Furthermore the discussion in the roundtable panel showed that, individually, each actor cannot do it all. We are collectively, all involved in the quality infrastructure, that we will translate Industry 4.0 successfully in all aspects of economy and everyone’s daily life. This constitutes a fantastic incentive, we all have to make headway at the same pace, jointly.

Working together is nothing new for accreditors. Taking account of stakeholders and interested parties’ views and needs is well embedded in our daily work. We are ready and will continue interaction with all our partners, European and national regulators, industry, services, consumers, CABs. We are well aware of the risks and will take up the challenge.