Digitisation means more than the installation of new ICT or high-speed connectivity, it is a complete transformation of where, how and why we manufacture. The Digitising European Industry Stakeholder Forum in March will showcase many digitisation examples and offer an excellent opportunity to discuss the digital future of EU industry.

Image of the connected factories project, mapping digital manufacturing platforms

The digitisation of industry is by now a clear and well recognised priority for Europe. Europe’s advanced manufacturing research and innovation communities are addressing this through the Factories of the Future public-private partnership (PPP), which is funded by the EU with €1.15 billion.

Since the early days of this PPP, Europe’s advanced manufacturing community has made digitisation a priority. As we know, the digitisation of manufacturing will connect people, devices, machines and enterprises. It includes concepts such as 'Industrial Internet', 'digital manufacturing platforms' and the 'Internet of Things' (IoT). Digitisation has the potential to transform industry so dramatically that it is considered to be the fourth industrial revolution (i.e. Industry 4.0). The Factories of the Future PPP has worked to address these changes and make the most out of them.

Within this context, I want to focus this blog on the important Factories of the Future PPP strategic project which we are coordinating at the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA): ConnectedFactories.

ConnectedFactories is one of 268 projects launched by the Factories of the Future PPP to meet the real needs of European companies and thus realise the transformation of manufacturing in Europe. ConnectedFactories is exploring pathways to the digital integration and interoperability of manufacturing systems and processes (i.e. future visions). By doing this, it will enhance the awareness among companies of the use of digital technologies in the manufacturing sector, and equip them with knowledge to make informed decisions regarding technology and business model choices. It will reinforce the position of European manufacturing industries in the international scene.

Our aim is for this project to establish a structured overview of available and upcoming technological approaches and best practices. The project will identify present and future needs, as well as challenges, of the manufacturing industries.

By using information from users of the supply and demand side of existing digital platforms as well as contributions of research and innovation projects, we are developing and testing industrial scenarios – in particular through workshops with both technology suppliers and end-users. This will enable us to identify the different pathways that fit the specific manufacturing environments or value networks. 

We have developed an adaptable common digital mapping framework specifically to serve as a tool for this purpose. As an additional layer on the pathways to digitisation, this mapping framework  offers a solid approach for describing and analysing what is present both on the market and in the research pipeline in terms of technologies that support the deployment of digital manufacturing platforms.

There is now a ConnectedFactories cluster of eleven projects – six of them focused on digital platforms for factory automation and four on supply chains and logistics. However, our efforts are not limited to a predefined set of projects, ConnectedFactories involves additional projects within its activities to stimulate synergies (from within and outside the Factories of the Future partnership). Through ConnectedFactories, we facilitate meetings among these projects twice a year and support exchanges of information on standards and standardisation, state-of-the-art platforms, interoperability aspects and CPS legacy system integration, core ICT technologies, business models and ecosystems, and other topics of relevance.

In sum, the project ConnectedFactories is a good example of how Public-Private Partnerships can help meet the real needs of industry and boost digital transformation. We are looking forward to the Digitising European Industry Stakeholder Forum in Paris, which will be an excellent opportunity to further discuss the role of these partnerships in Europe's digital future.