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Industry 4.0 for Sustainable Development Lab

The Calhoun Discovery Program and the Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Sciences (ICTAS) facilitates the Virginia Tech Industry 4.0 for Sustainable Development Lab (I4SD Lab). The lab brings together faculty and students across 15 VT programs as well as industry and nonprofits partners to jointly address workforce development and research issues related to the Lab theme.  The transdisciplinary and transsector undergraduate learning experiences of the Lab are designed to foster development of collaborative problem setting and problem solving skills that generalize to any complex sociotechnical context.

Industry 4.0 is defined by five core technologies that have evolved into 13 enabling technologies (Habib & Chissom, 2019).

Industry 4.0 is defined by five core technologies that have evolved into 13 enabling technologies (Habib & Chissom, 2019).

The development of industry 4.0 capabilities within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (United Nations General Assembly, 2015) can lead to a sociotechnical paradigm shift where technological advancements enhance, rather than displace, human capital development in an inclusive manner (Hecklau et al., 2016; World Economic Forum, 2016, 2017, 2018), promote equitable prosperity (UNIDO, 2017), and advance socioeconomic and environmental sustainability (Deloitte, 2018). 

The Lab aims to integrate the advancement of Industry 4.0 with sustainable and equitable development through collaborative sociotechnical innovation that spans the four sets of the Calhoun Discovery Program.

CDP Diagram

The I4SD Lab has six founding industry and nonprofit partners: The Boeing Company, Capital Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP), Caterpillar Incorporated (CAT), General Electric Company (GE), Ithaka S+R, and the United Way of Southwest Virginia. 

Faculty and Students from 19 VT units participate in the Lab: Industrial Systems Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Computation Modeling & Data Analytics, Aerospace Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Business Information Technology, Management, Industrial Design, Art, Communication, School of Public and International Affairs, ICAT, ICTAS, Center for Humanities, College Access Collaborative, Honors College. Over 30 faculty across Virginia Tech and 20 visiting professors from partner organizations lead the I4SD Lab. 

The I4.0 Lab is organized around six themes that are of current or near-future interest to all participants and require synchronous research and workforce preparation for their implementation. We organize each theme into a dynamic co-lab called a workcell with participation from students, faculty and partners. Each workcell engages topics at a systems level and spans the four Calhoun Discovery Program sets: feasibility, desirability, viability and sustainability. Each workcell functions as a transdisciplinary studio offering three levels of collaborative sociotechnical problems for students: novice (concept level), intermediate (prototype), capable (product). 

The six workcells are:

  1. Cyber Physical Systems - Smart Factory, Focus: Human Augmentation 
  2. Design for Advanced Manufacturing 
  3. Upgrading Systems From Legacy to Smart
  4. Digital Thread and Supply Chain Synchronization 
  5. Semi Automated Inspection, Focus: Drone-based Inspection 
  6. Inclusive Human Capital Development and Point of Need Learning/Training (PNLP)
  7. Financial Planning and Analysis for Industry 4.0

Links to the cells (above) provide samples of projects as well as a list of project mentors per cell. Using lessons learned from these work cells, we will explore additional work cells in Construction 4.0 and a Healthcare 4.0. 

Across all workcells, we focus on the following Industry 4.0 enabling technologies in which our faculty have expertise: 

  • Cyber Physical Systems 
  • Additive Manufacturing 
  • Internet of Things (IoT) 
  • Intelligent Systems 
  • Immersive Technologies 
  • Data Analytics and Digital Thread 

Results emerging from workcells will be integrated in industry together with the graduating workforce that can implement results at scale. Participating Virginia Tech students will receive cutting-edge preparation across disciplines in systems approaches to Industry 4.0 for Sustainable Development and extensive collaborative experiences spanning industry, nonprofit, and academia. 

CDP Diagram 3


  • Deloitte (2018). Preparing tomorrow’s workforce for the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Business: A framework for action
  • Habib, M. K., & Chimsom, C. (2019). Industry 4.0: Sustainability and design principles. 2019 20th, International Conference on Research and Education in Mechatronics (REM) (pp. 1–8). IEEE.
  • Hecklau, F., Galeitzke, M., Flachs, S., & Kohl, H. (2016). Holistic approach for human resource management in industry 4.0. Procedia CIRP, 54(1), 1–6. cir.2016.05.102
  • UNGA, 2015, Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
  • Industry 4.0: Opportunities and Challenges of the New Industrial Revolution for Developing Countries and Economies in Transition, UNIDO 2017
  • World Economic Forum. (2016a). The future of jobs: Employment, skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. World Economic Forum. 
  • World Economic Forum (2016b). Mastering the 4th industrial revolution
  • World Economic Forum. (2017). Accelerating workforce reskilling for the Fourth industrial revolution: An agenda for leaders to shape the future of education, gender and work. World Economic Forum. 
  • World Economic Forum & Boston Consulting Group (BCG). (2018). Towards a reskilling revolution: A future of jobs for all. World Economic Forum.