A year after its launch stakeholders involved in the I4MS Initiative (ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs) gathered in Berlin on June 18th to discuss Fostering Digital Industrial Innovation in Europe.

The event was timed to link in with the launch of the German manufacturing programme, "“Autonomik für Industrie 4.0" and brought together more than 150 professionals from the world of industry and innovation to share learnings from the first twelve months of I4MS and to discover further funding opportunities for SMEs and middle size corporates (mid-caps) .

The research director of one Slovenian SME described how involvement in the I4MS Initiative had been a “game changer” for his company.

What became clear through the day’s discussions was the possibility for future partnership with Member State ICT initiatives to take I4MS into its next phase.

Competitive advantage and partnership

One year ago the Commission clearly showed its commitment towards boosting the competitiveness of SMEs in the manufacturing sector as part of the reindustrialization policy for Europe (see blog post).

The message that Europe is giving is clear: Europe's competitiveness in that sector depends on its capacity to deliver highly innovative products that are produced economically and at excellent quality (see the Press Release). Now, in Berlin, different high-level speakers from large industries and SMEs, competence centres, and decision makers from public authorities from the EU and its Member States discussed achievements and new opportunities.

Khalil Rouhana, Director for Components and Systems in DG Connect, in his opening highlighted that mastering ICT can bring significant competitive advantage to Europe’s SMEs and midcaps. “Every product and every process needs to be smarter”, he said. “ If we want to create value we need to bring back industry. We must have production in Europe.”

Max Lemke, Head of Unit of Complex Systems and Advanced Computing from DG Connect, explained that IM4S aims to connect innovators across value chains to support the adoption of emerging technologies in novel applications. This will help innovations to cross the so called “Valley of Death” between the innovation phase and making a technology or product available on the market.

The critical role of a pan EU network of competence centres was highlighted as the key to the success of I4MS: the competence centres act as brokers or facilitators to provide the right expertise and skills needed by SMEs involved in the I4MS experiments.

ICT key to competitiveness

The I4MS Initiative is a part of the Factories of the Future public private partnership and Maurizio Gottiglio, Chairman of the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA), described the challenges facing SMEs in Europe’s economy. Europe’s 20 million small and medium sized enterprises provide almost 70% of employment in the EU, he explained. Although they are recovering from the crisis they do still need support and are therefore fertile ground for initiatives such as I4MS to encourage the use of new technologies. There is a tough competition on the global market and to counter this competition in Europe there should be specialization and clustering. ICT is a key factor to grow manufacturing and make European digital innovations “Best in Class”.

I4MS Game Changer for SMEs

Gregor Veble, the Head of Research at Pipistrel, a Slovenian SME manufacturing lightweight aircraft, told the meeting his company’s involvement in the I4MS initiative really had been “a game changer”.

As part of the Fortissimo project of I4MS, Pipistrel is able to access cloud based High Performance Computing simulation services to help in the design of its aircraft.  Dr Veble said that wind tunnel testing is prohibitively expensive for a small company like his.

“The alternative is to do a virtual model and test it on a computer but you need huge computer resources for that and SMEs don’t have the finances or the personnel to do that”.

Through this initiative, Pipistrel was linked up with ARCTUR, an HPC service provider also participating in the project. Gregor Veble told the meeting that, as a result of this partnership, his company has been able to do things they could only have dreamt of before. The aircraft manufacturer has already built a first prototype of a wing which was analysed using this cloud based technology.

He pointed out that some SMEs do not see the benefits of these sort of initiatives because they do not have people in-house who understand the technologies available.

Competences Centres

And that is where the competence centres have an important role to play in I4MS.

Ulrich Thombansen from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, a competence centre which is leading Lashare Project (sharing laser expertise) within I4MS, said that often an SME does not know what is available or even what it needs: “The big benefit of the I4MS Initiative is that competence centres can team up and do some “brokerage” to look for a problem and then see who could solve that.”

During a panel discussion “Modernising European Manufacturing Capabilities through Advanced ICT” four representatives from Member State ICT manufacturing initiatives joined to discuss how to make progress in the future.

The afternoon preceding the I4MS event was dedicated to a joint panel between I4MS and a German Government Initiative :“Autonomik für Industrie 4.0" (part of the German High-Tech 2020 strategy).

The core I4MS day served Innovation as a "main course" on the discussion tables:

  • digital industrial innovation in Europe;
  • innovation actions in Horizon 2020;
  • ICT innovation for manufacturing SMEs;
  • the Factories of the Future Private Public Partnership (PPP);
  • innovative use of smart laser, robotics, and
  • simulation technologies in advanced manufacturing, among others.

Click here to download the presentations, see the videos and the pictures of the event.


Related documents: