As project coordinator, Fraunhofer IPA was already experienced in guiding large project teams through proposal preparation and joint project work at national level. Most of the consortium's partners are used to working collaboratively.
The funding framework behind the project provided a unique chance for European robotics companies, industrial IT organisations, and partners from research and consulting to team up in a large European effort. 'The challenging goal towards creating a new family of industrial robots required a comprehensive approach in technology and component research and development, systems integration, teaching and education and socioeconomics,' notes Hägele. 'New for FP6, Integrated Projects (where research delivers new knowledge) turned out to be the right instrument to accommodate such large efforts, despite the challenges of managing projects of this size.'
Certainly SMErobot is moving in the right direction. But to explore the full potential of robotics, particularly for more flexible and cost-effective manufacturing which is typical for SMEs, further research needs to be undertaken. 'All the SMErobot project members and potential partners would like to see these issues addressed also in FP7,' he says.
Robotics is strategic for Europe's future competitiveness. About one third of all industrial robots are produced in Europe. The robotics market's growth rate will form an important part of the world economy within the next two decades. To reflect this, the European Union is doubling its European robotics research funding to EUR 400 million throughout FP7, so as to counteract competition from Asia and create new markets. Indeed, robotics systems and technologies are poised to make major market breakthroughs and SMEs are at the forefront of developing these new markets.
Hägele concludes: 'I am convinced that every partner would like to be part of an SMErobot II. Robotics industries form the core of the consortium. There is no doubt that the partners are extremely motivated to transfer the results into future products and services'.