Digitalising business from A to SME

I3 consists of a mix of Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian university researchers hailing from various sectors, including logistics, management, engineering, robotics, digital manufacturing, innovation and the creative arts. The project set out to support SMEs in their use of modern technology across their business – from marketing and sales, to product planning and design, and even manufacturing and aftersales.

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I3 project work ©Gabor Sziebig I3 project work ©Gabor Sziebig

" I3 addresses an increase in manufacturing SMEs’ commercialisation capabilities by supporting and promoting the use of digitalisation and cross-cutting technologies for product and service development. "

Åsa Ericson, I3 Project Manager and Professor of Information Systems at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

I3 employs a bottom-up approach, starting from the core business of an SME and working upwards towards its service offering. The goal is to identify real industrial challenges and approach these from the multidisciplinary perspective of the combined resource partners. For example, researchers at the participating Finnish university provide access to virtual reality and 3D printing and scanning facilities; the Norwegians have robotics and simulation labs; and the Swedish associates have creative methods, processes and facilities for open innovation. All knowledge and experience is shared across borders, sectors and functions. 

Through this accumulation of cross-sectorial experience, knowledge and skills, I3’s support facilitates the development of smart and sustainable business models for growth. At present, 25 SMEs are receiving technical and strategic support. 

From reactive to proactive

Northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland pride themselves in being highly IT and tech savvy. Scandinavia has excellent internet infrastructure and high technical interests, and its regional innovation agenda boasts opportunities in smart specialisation and digitalisation. However, certain regional challenges – such as sparsely populated areas, long distances and niche businesses – are holding it back from fulfilling its full digitalisation destiny. This is where the EU-funded Innovations & Industrial Internet (I3) project plays its part.

According to I3, business growth must be proactive, not reactive, which is why relying on technological advancements such as automation should be seen from a broad perspective. Instead of looking at automation as a principal cause for rising unemployment, it is worth noting that it is often a driving force for replacing monotonous and outdated procedures and creating new types of jobs. According to project organisers, in order to advance and transform a business on a digital level, every aspect of existing manufacturing procedures must be challenged.

A multidisciplinary approach

A good example of the cross-border collaboration happening within the project is the use of 3D scanning to make production more competitive. For one SME, both the Swedish and Finish university partners made a 3D scan using different procedures and techniques. An analysis of both scans was presented to another SME, which led to a follow-up case on 3D printing that involved all partners and connected the SMEs involved. 

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “Innovations & Industrial Internet” is EUR 1 020 819, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 663 532 through the “Interreg V-A - Sweden-Finland-Norway (Nord)” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period.