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ICT Innovation for Manufacturing SMEs (I4MS)


As Phase 3 of I4MS ( this topic addresses the adoption of the next generation of ICT advances in the manufacturing domain. Focus is on emerging innovative technologies and processes, which need to be customised, integrated, tested and validated before being released on the market. Special emphasis is on strengthening European SMEs and mid-caps along the value chain by adopting new concepts linked to innovative business and/or service models, and bringing them into contact with actors that can provide access to finance and access to advanced training to reskill workers.

a. Innovation actions must address all of the following three aspects.

  1. Establishing across Europe networks of multidisciplinary competence centres offering “marketplaces” for companies that want to experiment with digital technologies in manufacturing of discrete or continuous goods. Centres should have the capacity to offer access to technology platforms and skills for developing and testing innovative technologies and applications, including access to design and manufacturing, rapid prototyping and equipment assessment initiatives. They should also act as brokers between suppliers and users of the technology products. Competence centres are encouraged to link to existing/emerging regional (smart specialisation) or national innovation hubs. If Horizon 2020 funding is complemented by ESIF or other regional or national funds: Horizon 2020 funding shall be used for carrying out highly innovative experiments that will multiply the impact of local initiatives to a European scale, and will build partnerships between businesses in Europe.
  2. Carrying out a critical mass of cross-border experiments bringing together different key actors along the full value chain to customise the technologies according to the requirements of the users. Driven by the requirements of first-time users, Application Experiments bring together the actors of the value chain and the experts necessary to enable new users to develop novel products or services and assist them in customising and applying these in their respective environments. Experiment descriptions in proposals should include an outline of the initial exploitation plan and business scenario, which will be developed further in the proposed experiment. To remain flexible on which experiments will be carried out, the action may involve financial support to third parties, in line with the conditions set out in part K of the General Annexes. The consortium will define the selection process of additional users and suppliers running the experiments for which financial support will be granted (typically in the order of EUR 20 000 – 100 000[[In line with Article 23 (7) of the Rules for Participation the amounts referred to in Article 137 of the Financial Regulation may be exceeded, and if this is the case proposals should explain why this is necessary to achieve the objectives of the action.]] per party). Maximum 50% of the EU funding can be allocated to this purpose[[It is recommended to also use established networks reaching out to SMEs like the Enterprise Europe Network and the NCP network for calls publications and awareness raising towards SME's.]].
  3. Activities to achieve long-term sustainability of the competence centres and the eco-system. This includes the development of a business plan for the competence centres and the marketplace, of which an outline business case and industrial exploitation strategy should be described in the proposal, as outlined in the Introduction to the LEIT part of this Work Programme. In addition, investors should be attracted to support business development of SMEs and mid-cap actors in successful experiments. Training needs of the SMEs and mid-caps should be collected and shared with training providers in the eco-system, with the ultimate aim that sufficient training opportunities will be available for all companies.Such activities would include also dissemination.

Proposers should cover at least one of the following four areas of technologies for adoption in manufacturing. Proposers are encouraged to support the building of pan-European ecosystems of emerging platforms and are expected to collaborate on reinforcing the European I4MS ecosystem, and to establish links to related activities, e.g. in the IoT Focus Area, the Joint Undertaking ECSEL, and the SPARC or big data PPPs.

  1. CPS and IoT: Adoption and piloting of CPS/IoT in smart production environments, with special focus on scalable, modular and re-configurable automation systems across the process chain especially for SMEs.
  2. Robotics[[The area of Robotics within the I4MS scheme is complementing the areas RTD-FoF2-2016 and LEIT-ICT Robotics topics]]: New robot systems that are cost effective at lower lot sizes, with the benefit of long-term improvements in productivity, the ability to work safely in close physical collaboration with human operators; and that are intuitive to use and adaptive to changes in task configuration. Key for fast adoption is the availability of flexible and easy to apply material feeding solutions. Step changes to at least two of the following abilities are therefore considered necessary: configurability, interaction capability, decisional autonomy in terms of context-awareness, and dependability.
  3. Modelling, simulation and analytics: HPC Cloud-based modelling, simulation and analytics services with special emphasis on sustained service models; on providing real-time support; and on addressing comprehensively security and privacy issues at all levels.
  4. Digital design for additive Manufacturing: Supporting the broad uptake of innovative additive manufacturing equipment and processes particularly focusing on the link between design tools and production, changes in business models, process chains and stakeholder relations.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU up to EUR 8 million would allow the areas to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. At least one innovation action is supported for each area of technologies.

b. Coordination and Support actions

To advance the European I4MS innovation ecosystem the network is to be reinforced. The aim is to achieve broad coverage in technological, application, innovation, and geographic terms, and to link up with regional/national innovation initiatives, including access to finance and access to training. Its tasks and services shall include maintaining a single innovation portal for newcomers, including a catalogue of the competences available in the I4MS network; sharing of best practices and experiences from I4MS and relevant regional/national initiatives; dissemination; identifying new innovative ICT technologies that can benefit from this scheme, brokering between users and suppliers; leveraging further investment for SMEs and mid-caps to bring the results of the application experiments to real use in the company, providing support in finding training providers for reskilling the workers in the SMEs and midcaps. For these support actions, close cooperation with the European Factories of the Future Association (EFFRA[[Web link]]), the newly established Knowledge Innovation Community (KIC) on Added Value Manufacturing and the CSA funded under the Smart Anything Everywhere initiative is required.

For Europe's competitiveness in manufacturing, it is crucial that advances in ICT are taken up in engineering and manufacturing ""at large"" as soon as they have the appropriate maturity level. The topic will support fast adoption, and wide spread technology transfer of advanced ICT-based solutions for manufacturing across the business process chains – from ""cradle to grave"".

Proposals should address all of the following impact criteria, providing metrics to measure success when appropriate:

  • Exploration of new application areas for advanced ICT in manufacturing at large: Attract a significant number of new users of advanced ICT in the manufacturing sector, in particular SMEs and the mid-caps.
  • More innovative and competitive technology suppliers, in particular SMEs, both on the level of ICT and on the level of manufacturing equipment, able to supply manufacturers with new equipment, components, and tools for improved manufacturing and engineering operations.
  • More competitive European service providers through provisioning of new types of services; through strengthening the presence on local markets.
  • Creation of a self-sustainable ecosystem of competence centers, users and suppliers supported by services available through a marketplace, covering a large number of regions and their smart specialisation.
  • A critical mass of pan European experiments that demonstrate innovative, sustainable business models covering the whole value chain leading to quantifiable increases in market shares and/or productivity of European companies and/or industrial capacities in Europe.