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Europe Launches Digital Manufacturing Innovation Hub Network To Boost Industrial Digitization

Posted By Paul Tate, October 11, 2017 at 8:20 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future

I4.0_Europe_Map.pngIn a bid to accelerate the European manufacturing industry’s journey to a digital future, the European Union’s Institute of Innovation and Technology’s digital division (EIT Digital) has launched a new initiative to provide European manufacturing companies with easier access to the technological facilities and advanced skills of the multiple manufacturing innovation hubs now in place across the region.

The pan-European network, called the Manufacturing Industry Digital Innovation Hub (MIDIH) initiative, brings together 21 research, government, academic, industry, and technology provider hubs across the continent -- stretching from Finland in the North, to Italy in the South -- into a more coordinated network. Industry partner hubs involved in the network include Fiat’s Research Center near Turin, IT consultancy Atos, technical researchers VTT in Finland, and Spanish metal products manufacturer Nueva Herramienta de Corte.

Funded by the European Union’s Factories of the Future and Industry 4.0 programs, the aim of MIDIH is to help “set a path to digitize the European manufacturing industry” by creating a common operating framework across multiple innovation hubs, and provide a “one-stop-shop” for European manufacturing companies to access the latest technology support, skill-building courses, and business developments services. 

There’s a lot at stake. The European manufacturing industry currently consists of around two million enterprises, large and small, employs around 33 million people, and accounts for some 60% of productivity growth across European economies. New Manufacturing 4.0 technologies, especially industrial IoT and cyber-physical systems, are seen as vital to preserving and increasing the competitiveness of the European manufacturing industry.

There are, of course, numerous national industrial digitization schemes already underway across the region including Industrie 4.0 in Germany, Industrie du Futur in France, 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) in the U.K., Produktion 2030 in Sweden, Fabbrica Intelligente in Italy, and Produktion der Zukunft (Future Production) in Austria (see map). 

Recent studies now estimate that the increased digitization of products and manufacturing processes encouraged by these schemes could add more than $130 billion (€110 billion) of annual revenue in Europe over the next five years.

The European Union’s EIT organization clearly believes that what European companies need now is a more coordinated, pan-European support platform for its Industry 4.0 innovation efforts to help accelerate progress.

While EIT Digital admits that many of Europe’s digital innovation hubs are still in their infancy, it believes that their industrial impact is currently being limited by the availability of a broad enough range of skills, and the difficulties of scaling digitally-innovative small and medium manufacturing businesses beyond regional/national borders.

By pooling the skills of multiple innovation hubs across the region, predominantly those focused on industrial IoT and cyber-physical systems, MIDIH hopes to allow European developers, large and small manufacturing companies, and new start-ups to easier:

  • Understand and master a broad range of new technologies and related business models, by accessing skill building services;
  • Experiment and test new processes and products by accessing the latest technologies in a wide range of testing facilities and receiving qualified support for customization and project design;
  • Boost growth and help internationalize their businesses through cross-border demand-offer brokerage, access to new markets, and access to finance for development.

“In order to play a major role in the digitization of the European manufacturing industry, European SMEs and midcaps need to be able to access a pallet of services in a unified manner,” explained Fabio Pianesi, Head of External Collaboration at EIT Digital which is driving the MIDIH initiative. This includes insights into “new technological opportunities; support for the development and assessment of new services and products; help in developing and scaling up businesses; and support in re-skilling workforces.”

“By pooling together existing Digital Innovation Hubs, Competence Centres, and Teaching Factories across Europe,” he added, “and joining forces with major industrial players and platform providers, MIDIH will help incubate a pan-European network acting as a “one stop shop” for services, allowing SMEs and midcap to successfully meet the challenges of digital transformation.”

The full list of the 21 partners in Europe’s new MIDIH initiative include: EIT Digital, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, Fraunhofer, Institute Mines Telecom, Fortis, VTT, Technical University of Kosiciach, CEFRIEL, Technical University of Lulea, Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry - Polish Academy of Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Irish Manufacturing Research, Atos Spain, Nissatech Innovation Center, Hop Ubiquitous, Politecnico di Milano, Innovalia, FIWARE Foundation, Industrial Data Space, Centro Ricerche FIAT, Nueva Herramienta de Corte. 

However, in the light of the current political uncertainty in Europe, including the U.K.’s unresolved Brexit negotiations, Spain’s internal conflicts in Catalonia, and upcoming elections in many Eastern European nations this year, it will be interesting to see if this new initiative can rise above any background political machinations, and indeed foster more collaborative and coordinated progress for Europe’s manufacturing companies at an industrial level in the years ahead. 

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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