It’s hard to believe it was less than five years ago that the term ‘Industry 4.0’ first entered our vocabulary. In this short time, European industry has undergone a transformation so profound that talking of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is well and truly justified. As President of Orgalime – the European Engineering Industries Association – I represent companies at the forefront of this transformation. Our firms have fully embraced the opportunities of digitisation, integrating digital tech on the factory floor and unlocking the potential of data across the value chain.
2017 was the year that these changes really started to pay dividends, as digitisation began making a tangible impact on companies’ bottom lines. Impressive growth and employment figures like those recorded last year in the engineering industry show just how crucial industry is to the future of the EU economy, and its role in providing skilled, high-quality jobs to European citizens.
I am convinced, however, that our industry will play an even more significant role in the future of Europe – by enabling innovation across sectors to deliver solutions to the EU’s most pressing societal challenges. The fusion of digital and data with Europe’s traditional industrial strengths is fuelling transformations that extend far beyond the factory line. Manufacturers of smart grid components are making our energy systems fit for the future; the suppliers of e-mobility infrastructures are helping to decarbonise transportation; connected healthcare solutions are set to improve quality of life in a time of demographic change. Europe’s industry will be instrumental in shaping a greener, healthier and more sustainable future for the EU and its citizens.
To make the most of this potential, it will be important to ensure the right framework at EU level. Three issues in particular are on the radar of decision-makers in Brussels:
- Data: There can be no doubt about it – data really is the fuel of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In fact, building a European data economy will be key to reaping the full benefits of the Digital Single Market. But to secure a functional Digital Single Market for Europe’s industry, an innovation-friendly framework for the flow of non-personal data across borders will be necessary. Maintaining the principle of ‘freedom of contract’ as the basis of B2B relations when it comes to the flow of data and data exchange in general will be paramount in fostering business model innovation.
- Artificial Intelligence: AI is a key enabling technology for digitising industrial processes. As CEO of Fastems (independent manufacturer of factory automation systems) I have personally seen how these technologies deliver efficiency gains across the value chain. However, more fanciful ideas about how it may evolve are prompting some talk of pre-emptive regulation – regulation that could nip innovation in the bud. It will be important for Europe to have a sensible debate in the next few months, especially as the potential benefits of AI to society may be enormous.
- Cybersecurity: The success of industrial digitisation depends on a robust cybersecurity framework – and it will be important for policymakers to work closely with industry to create flexible solutions for compliance and certification. Established industry practices such as self-declaration of conformity should be considered and our industry should be more closely involved in elaborating and preparing candidate schemes.
More important than any individual issue, however, is the need to embed support for digitisation within an ambitious and forward-looking industrial strategy – one that looks beyond regulatory issues and addresses the big picture of how policy shapes the environment industry operates in. From the internal market to R&I funding, energy policy to circular economy: actions taken across the EU policy landscape have a role to play in creating an attractive environment for investment by and in our industry. Get it right, and policymakers will not only secure the EU’s position as the home of leading-edge digital industrial innovation – they will also help our firms maximise the contribution they can make to Europe’s economy and society, now and in the years to come.
The Digitising European Industry Stakeholder Forum in Paris will be an excellent opportunity to discuss these issues and contribute to an ambitious industrial strategy that unlocks the added value of digitisation for European industry.