Wallonia supports advanced manufacturing mainly in the framework of its competitiveness poles programme, the focus of which is on generating concrete projects focusing on end products and final applications, mainly through R&D collaborative projects, training actions, internationalisation activities and innovation platforms. The calls for projects are launched by the Government but the strategy of poles (niches markets and technology fields) is defined bottom-up. The poles are active in the areas of mechanical engineering (Mecatech), aeronautics and space (Skywin), life sciences (Biowin), construction (CAP Construction, Cluster Eco-construction), ICT (INFOPOLE), plastics (Plastiwin), digital audio-visual (TWIST), sustainable energy (TWEED), sustainable chemistry and materials (Greenwin), logistics (Logistics in Wallonia) and agri-food (Wagralim). They all pay attention to areas such as new materials, including nano-materials, intelligent manufacturing and maintenance, micro-manufacturing, additive manufacturing, surface treatment and coating. According to the inputs of the Walloon Region to the Vanguard initiative, the key Walloon priorities in the field of advanced manufacturing are related to additive manufacturing/3D printing, surface engineering, recycling, and reverse metallurgy. Noticeably the strategy of the Mecatech competitiveness pole is based on four priority areas: materials and surfaces of the future; comprehensive forming technologies; micro-technologies and mechatronics; and intelligent maintenance.
As the poles have been selected on the basis of their economic and technological weight in the regional economy, but also on the basis of their development strategies in their thematic area, in which they possess competitive advantages, the smart specialisation strategy (S3) of Wallonia is today directly linked to the competitiveness poles and cluster policy. From the evaluation of the Walloon competitiveness clusters (Technopolis Group & Erdyn, 2014), it appears that the poles have indeed a key role to play in the implementation of the Walloon S3 strategy, i.e. by offering platforms for cross-sectoral collaborations, implementing thematic strategies in line with societal challenges, exploring co-investment possibilities. The implementation of the S3 can indeed allow the region to gain better cross-border connectivity (regionally and internationally) and cooperation along the value chain allowing reaching critical masses and gaining further knowledge. Within the Walloon Research strategy for 2011-2015, common priorities of the region and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation have also been identified. These priorities encompass and aim at tackling major societal challenges: Sustainable Development; Renewable energies; Quality and length of life; Health; and Key technology domains.
Wallonia is one of the 17 partner regions of the ‘Vanguard Initiative New Growth through Smart Specialisation’ established in 2014, which is a coalition that places the European Union’s Smart Specialisation agenda at its core. The Vanguard Initiative partners seek to ‘lead by example’ and to drive and support new efforts to generate the scale and capacity for the EU to compete on an international level in several key domains. Following the EU communication regarding the industrial renaissance in 2014, the Vanguard Initiative regions decided to: foster an action-oriented discussion on how to develop a Smart Specialisation Platform (SSP) for Advanced Manufacturing (SSP-AM); and to generate, agree and commit to a series of actions to establish a clear roadmap and set of proposals for the establishment of an SSP-AM.
The Vanguard Initiative partners are thus committed to the creation of a platform which gives an impetus to the advanced manufacturing ‘community’ to generate bottom-up ideas, support synergies and alignment at the inter-regional level and create a ‘new space’ for industry engagement. It will build upon and go beyond existing efforts to support this ambition by setting a focus on the smart specialisation priorities of the partner regions.
Wallonia is also involved in existing EU wide initiatives in favour of advanced manufacturing such as SPIRE, the European Technology Platform (ETP) ManuFuture and Manunet, at which Wallonia is on the management board. The region is also involved in INTERREG IV projects related to advanced manufacturing in the Euroregion Meuse-Rhine and “Grande Region”: the TTC Top-Technology Cluster which regroups 19 partners in advanced materials; and the INTERMAT GR with nine partners -notably three cluster organisations- working on materials engineering.
Furthermore, Creative Wallonia is responsible for putting creativity and innovation in the Wallonia Project’s core. They connect different agents in the region in order to promote transformation and to boost the impact in the industrial sector. Some of the operators are Idcampus, Greenhub, Hub Créatif de Liège, Creative Valley, Wapshub, Openhub, Boost-Up Industries Créatives, Engine, all directly or indirectly related to the transformation in the manufacturing industry.