The manufacturing industry is a strong asset of the European economy, accounting for 2 million enterprises and 33 million jobs. Europe's competitiveness is highly dependent on the ability of this sector to deliver high-quality innovative products using the latest advances in ICT.

ICT based manufacturing machine

Manufacturing accounts for 16% of Europe's GDP. The sector is responsible for 64% of private sector Research & Development expenditure and for 49% of innovation expenditure in Europe.

ICT-based solutions applied across the manufacturing value chain help to make processes more efficient. They enable the creation of more personalised, diversified and mass-produced products as well as flexible reaction to market changes.

The production process uses more and more digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, modelling and simulation, cloud computing and big data analysis. By integrating these new solutions, factories can become:

  • Digital: developing and analysing products and processes in a digital way will boost creativity and reduce the time from design to production. For example, creating prototypes digitally allows saving time and resources in physical testing.
  • Smart: sensors, new architectures and control methods will make existing production facilities smarter, capable of adapting and reacting autonomously to changes in production.
  • Virtual: factories will be connected with other factories, so that the manufacturing process can be virtually controlled, integrating production, supply chain, logistics and customisation needs in real time.

Addressing new challenges

The factories of the future need to deal with competitive pressures and incorporate new technologies, applications and services. Digital industrial platforms address this need by providing the means to integrate different technologies, take data from the shop floor and the supply network, make it accessible to monitoring and control applications, and allow the development of complementary applications.

Data will play a key role in the transformation of manufacturing, but it poses significant challenges in terms of security. Manufacturing facilities will need to be digitally connected with external partners in the value chain, so it is important to guarantee an adequate level of security without limiting the capability to exchange data and information both on the manufacturing floor and beyond the factory.

While factories will become more autonomous, manufacturing processes are designed and controlled by engineers, so a highly skilled workforce becomes a pre-condition for the success of these innovation processes.

Energy sustainability will also be essential, reducing resource consumption and waste generation to make the sector ready for the low-carbon economy.

Supporting EU research and innovation

The EU's research & innovation (R&I) programmes have steadily supported the development of technologies and solutions that enable the European manufacturing sector to take full advantage of digital opportunities. Many projects are financed by the Factories of the Future Public-Private Partnership, and they cover areas such as digital automation, process optimisation of manufacturing assets, simulation and analytics technologies and ICT innovation for manufacturing SMEs.

Currently, the European R&I programme Horizon 2020 has the following open calls related to connected smart factories:

Other upcoming related calls are: