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PhD Studentship: Sociotechnical Design for Industry 4.0 Innovation in Heathrow Airport

University of West London, U.K.

Qualification Type: Ph.D.
Location: London
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,000 see advert text
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 30th October 2018
Closes: 25th November 2018

Research rationale

Digital and automation technologies improve the safety, predictability and reliability of operational processes. Notions of job satisfaction and wellbeing at work are linked to discussions of design and use of digital and automation technologies that shape workers’ work at different times, in various locations, and at different levels.

Airports are natural places where these digital and automation technologies can be seen in use and are also a natural cradle for innovation. This PhD project co-funded by Heathrow Airport will focus on the digitalisation, automation and augmentation of work as it currently is, on how Industry 4.0 (i4.0) technology might re-define how work is currently done, and on the new opportunities it will create. This is all underpinned by cyber-physical systems, Industry 4.0 (i4.0). It will also develop and implement socio-technical design frameworks, such as Human Work Interaction Design and Ecological Interface Design, for activity-based wellbeing and service quality in smart and pervasive work environments, across different work domains of the airport terminal operations.

The motivation for this project is that the uses of i4.0 technologies in airports as service-driven work environments are not always automatically positive. If i4.0 implementation is not carefully designed, this could lead to degradation of service quality goals for passengers and workers. However, if implemented in a considered way these potential negatives could be transformed into positive outcomes.

Research design

The project will take a practice-based approach considering workers’ and passengers’ perspectives in i4.0 work environments as an evolving, multi-level, process that involves individual workers, organisations, big data and digitally-embedded artefacts. In-situ observations, probes, participatory design and prototyping methods will drive research activities. This is an opportunity for the chosen candidate to pursue research in an industrial setting where automation has already seen tangible benefits, e.g. passenger-activated bag-drop. The project will involve a collaboration Heathrow Airport.


These PhD scholarships are open to all UK/EU students who qualify and include:

  • 1) PhD fee waiver at the Home/EU rate
    2) tax-free stipend of £15,000 per annum

PhD scholars will register as full-time PhD students and work on their PhD project within the relevant School/College. PhD scholars will undertake teaching duties for a maximum of six hours per week. All scholarships will be for a period of three years (subject to satisfactory performance and academic progress).

Principal supervisor: Jose Abdelnour-Nocera is Associate Professor in Sociotechnical Design at the University of West London.

For an informal discussion about this PhD project please email Prof. Jose Abdelnour-Nocera at