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I4MS- ICT for Manufacturing SMEs
The European Commission is launching a new 77 million Euro innovation initiative for the manufacturing sector and in particular its high-tech small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), to profit from newest advances in ICT: I4MS (Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs). Europe's competiveness in that sector depends on its capacity to deliver highly innovative products that are produced economically and at high quality. The innovative part of these products often originates from advances in ICT integrated in these products. At the same time, ICT-based solutions applied across the manufacturing process chain help to make manufacturing these products efficient. Both in combination allow for more personalized, diversified and mass-produced European products and flexible reaction to changes on the world market.
In the "ICT for Manufacturing SMEs" (I4MS) initiative, in each of the more than 150 innovation experiments to be launched in the next 3 years starting from July onwards, European innovators are connected across the value chain to mature and adopt ICT innovations across the production value chain spanning from design and engineering down to laser-based manufacturing and industrial robotics. Experiments are implemented with the help of pan-European networks of competence centres providing the knowledge and support for partnering beyond national boundaries. Companies interested will have the opportunity to apply to Calls for Experiments launched by these centres in 2014 and 2015.
About 200 SMEs across Europe are foreseen to participate in I4MS, roughly half of them being innovative suppliers of ICT, and the other half being early adopters of ICT innovations. SMEs will benefit in three ways: (i) direct financial support to improve their products or manufacturing processes, (2) acquiring new technologies and knowledge and (3) access to new markets and partners outside their local ecosystem.
I4MS is part of the Public Private Partnership 'Factories of the Future' (PPP FoF), which has shown to be a valuable tool in ensuring that industrial priorities are well reflected in EU funding programmes and that European SMEs with innovation requirements are able to benefit from EU research and innovation funding through open, light and fast support schemes. I4MS complements a portfolio of research and development projects, which focuses on exploiting advances in ICT across the complete manufacturing process chain leading to a modernization of manufacturing in Europe. The I4MS initiative is considered a first trial to pave the way for wider integration of research and innovation in the context of the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. Key stakeholders from industry and academia of on-going FoF projects are meeting at the imagineFOF2020 event this week in Genève to discuss progress and future challenges.
Policy context: In the broader European policy context I4MS equally contributes to the Commission Policy "A Digital Agenda for Europe" and to "A stronger European Industrial Policy for Growth and Economic Recovery". I4MS is part of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Factories of the Future (FoF) launched in November 2008 within the European Economic Recovery Plan to respond to the global economic crisis. It is part of the specific programme "Co-operation" of the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Union for research, technological development and demonstration activities. The PPP FoF aims at helping EU manufacturing enterprises, in particular SMEs, to adapt to global competitive pressures by improving the technological base of manufacturing across a broad range of sectors. The FoF PPP is supported in FP7under both the ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and the NMP (Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials) priorities. The ICT contribution to this initiative aims at improving the efficiency, adaptability and sustainability of manufacturing systems as well as their better integration within business processes in an increasingly globalised industrial context.
Budget: I4MS is planned to receive public funds in the order of 77M€, of which around 40% are envisaged for SMEs, the rest is split among large industries, and competence centres. Industrial partners contribute at the level of a total share of 25% (SMEs) or 50% (large industries) of the overall cost. The European Union contribution to this innovation initiative denotes around 30% of the ICT share or 13% of the total budget of 600M€ for the FoF PPP.
Concept: I4MS aims at the wider and faster adoption of ICT to modernise Europe's manufacturing capabilities. It supports the crossing of the valley of death – also called the chasm – in the technology adoption process: For ICT users, the aim is to reduce the risk in being an early adopter of advanced technology bringing a clear competitive advantage; for suppliers, the aim is to help them open up new markets with innovative solutions and establish or broaden the relevant customer base. The network of competence centres and innovation multipliers allows for a dissemination that is targeted at sectors, regions, or applications. It will capitalise on the critical mass of actions and experiences and seek to replicate successes contributing to the emergence of an "early majority" of adopters.