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UKAS: Accreditation and the 4th Industrial Revolution

As part of the strategic priority to “To be agile, enabling the organisation to adapt and innovate” UKAS has been examining and researching the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) on accreditation and the conformity assessment sector. What is clear is that 4IR is a large diverse topic covering a multitude of differing technologies including:

Artificial Intelligence (AI); Machine learning; Internet of Things; Blockchain/Distributed Ledger Technology; Big Data; Wearables; Virtual/Augmented Reality; Autonomous Vehicles; Digital Healthcare; Genomics; 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing; Cyber Security; Smart Devices; Nanotechnology; Robotics and Cloud Computing.

It is evident that many of the technologies have the ability to not only introduce change to the accreditation and the conformity assessment communities but also to change how we all live and work.

Through conversations and meetings with customers and stakeholders about 4IR in the conformity assessment sector the picture that emerges is very mixed. Some are very early on in their journey with 4IR and others are much further down the road, already identifying the potential for 4IR technologies to improve the services or products they provide.

Regardless of which technologies are being considered however, and how far along the process organisations are, there is a fundamental need for business and consumer confidence in these new technologies. The potential for products such as Smart Devices, AI and Self Driving vehicles is evident and exciting, but their perceived complexity can make businesses and consumers wary. As can be seen through concerns over data security of Smart Devices and AI systems inheriting the biases against specific demographics based on the data they were ‘trained’ upon.

Accredited conformity assessment can provide a solution to deliver the necessary trust and confidence in a new generation of products and services that are underpinned by 4IR technologies.  Whilst these new technologies can initially appear complex to provide assurance on, the existing mechanisms used by the conformity assessment sector (namely Testing, Inspection and Certification against agreed specifications, regulations or standards) are appropriate to provide the level of assurance required.

There is a need for the conformity assessment sector to work with these emerging technologies and develop its skills in 4IR. This will enable us to understand the critical points at which these technologies have to be tested or inspected, so that the standards and specifications that are developed are fit for purpose. Doing so will support ongoing innovation whilst providing the necessary assurance demanded by regulators, businesses and customers.

Already UKAS has been closely involved with its National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) partners the Department for Business, Energy & industrial Strategy (BEIS), the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in producing an Action Plan for Regulation for the 4IR.  This has been an excellent example of the NQI partners working in collaboration and represents some initial steps in what will be an ongoing journey to provide trust and confidence in 4IR technologies.