The European Commission is contributing €77 million from its 7th R&D Framework Programme (FP7) to an innovation initiative for the manufacturing sector designed to help high-tech small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) exploit the potential of ICTs to help grow their businesses, the EC press service announced.
The “I4MS” initiative (ICT for Manufacturing SMEs) will help 200 SMEs across Europe, who are either attempting to reduce the risks involved in using advanced technology which is still in its infancy, or are trying to cross the so-called “valley of death” that separates the development of an innovative prototype from a successful product in the market.
European Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes said: “Europe’s research community must be at the forefront of ICT research in the manufacturing sector. And it is even more important to translate this research leadership into productivity gains and increased competitiveness of our products and industrial actors. By stimulating targeted innovation and investing in our biggest assets in that sector, namely SMEs, I4MS is bridging this gap.“
I4MS officially kicks off in July 2013 and will conduct more than 150 innovation experiments over the next 3 years. It targets suppliers and users of ICT solutions and covers innovation in four areas: advanced robot solutions, high performance cloud-based simulation services, intelligent sensor-based equipment and innovative laser applications. SMEs across Europe will benefit in three ways:
- direct financial support to improve their products or manufacturing processes
- acquisition of new technologies and knowledge
- access to new markets and partners outside their local ecosystem.
These experiments will be implemented with the help of pan-European networks of competence centres, providing the knowledge and support for partnering beyond national borders. SMEs will be able to apply for funding through Calls for Experiments launched by these centres in 2014 and 2015.
Key stakeholders from industry and academia of the on-going Public Private Partnership ‘Factories of the Future’ (PPP FoF) projects are meeting at the “Imagine FOF2020” event this week in Geneva to discuss progress and future challenges related to ICT.
I4MS is part of the Commission’s wider efforts to strengthen industry and the EU’s manufacturing sector. The Commission has given investment in new technologies and innovation top priority in its Industrial Policy strategy to reverse the declining role of industry in Europe from 15.6% of GDP (in 2011) to as much as 20% by 2020.
I4MS is part of the Public Private Partnership ‘Factories of the Future’ (PPP FoF) launched in November 2008 within the European Economic Recovery Plan to respond to the global economic crisis. This partnership aims at helping EU manufacturing enterprises, in particular SMEs, to adapt to global competitive pressure by improving the technological base of manufacturing across a broad range of sectors. The I4MS initiative is a first pilot project for wider integration of research and innovation under Horizon 2020.
I4MS will receive €77 million in EU public funding.40% is likely to go to SMEs, the rest split between large industries, and competence centres. Industrial partners will contribute either 25% (for SMEs) or 50% (large industries) of their overall cost. The EU contribution of €77 million amounts to around 13% of the total budget of €600 million of the PPP FoF.
The initial set of SMEs in I4MS originates from 12 EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK) and 5 Associated Countries (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Israel, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). Participation across Europe is expected to increase with the Calls for Experiments to be launched in 2014 and 2015.