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Digitally Empowered Circular Economy: Industry 4.0 technological enablers

Lead contributor: Saman Sarbazvatan

Industry 4.0 Technological Enablers drive innovation in solutions and services and restructure the economic and business models and market dynamics. The accelerating pace of Digital Transformation and the upcoming Digital Economy drive and are driven by the mass integration of Industry 4.0 Enabling Technologies in the back-end, core, and front-end of industries, businesses, and markets. Such innovations drive the transition to the Digitally Empowered Circular Economy and help us achieve SDGs and Sustainable Competitiveness more efficiently.  

Designed in five insightful parts, this chapter sheds light on the applications and implications of some of the major Digital Enablers of the Circular Economy. It highlights the pivotal role of Data-Informed Decision Making, Innovation, and Governance for smart utilization of assets and resources. 

Unfolding the numerous advantages of Big Data, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence, this chapter explores how this technology stack can enrich data-informed decision making and improve service and product design for a smart selection of environmentally friendly materials and processes and help us cut waste, pollution, process time, and downtimes for more intelligent use of resources. These technologies are fueled by Cyber-Physical Systems, IoT, and Intelligent Assets, which enable connectivity and feedback loops across the Physical, Digital, and Biological realms. Such innovations empower predictive, preventive, and prescriptive maintenance, and help us optimize resource allocation, cut waste and pollution, enhance manufacturing and production, reduce energy consumption, design right-in-time inventory management, and enhance product after-life and end-of-life processes.  

Following a deep dive into the above with use cases and applications, this chapter explains how Blockchain, Tokenized Economies, and Business Models constitute another significant pillar of Digitally Empowered Circular Economy and Sustainable Competitiveness by acting as the cornerstone enabler of Trust and Transparency in sourcing, production, transportation, distribution, maintenance, after-sales, and end of life of products. Eventually, Extended Reality, Virtualization, and Digital Twins are explained further to highlight how they drastically reduce the consumption of materials and generation of waste and pollution while enhancing the functionality of resources via auxiliary digital layers for more efficient interaction of assets across the physical, digital, and biological dimensions.  

Accentuating the above in four parts with examples and use cases, the final part of this chapter summarizes the discussions by providing Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights for researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, firms, industry and market leaders, and decision-makers to capitalize on a plethora of innovation opportunities emerging from the Digital Enablers of Industry 4.0. This chapter highlights a wide spectrum of opportunities to leverage these technologies to promote the circular economy, SDGs, and Sustainable Competitiveness with broad applications across sectors. This chapter helps vanguard entrepreneurs, visionary leaders, and forward-thinking decision-makers to develop cutting-edge solutions and strategies by capitalizing on the emerging trends of digital enablers to gain competitive advantage and purpose-driven innovation capacities.