Many SMEs struggle to embrace the Industry 4.0 revolution and the uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies and systems remains a challenge: only one in five manufacturing companies have already used advanced manufacturing solutions. A recent study shows that for nearly three quarters of the firms, the most important barrier to the uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies and systems is the high cost of investments in advanced manufacturing acquisition and the lack of financial resources. About half of all firms also indicate difficulties in assessing the performance and the potential business return of such technologies and/or the lack of skilled personnel required to adopt relevant technologies and business models.
Only few public initiatives today offer advisory services to manufacturing SMEs to help them assess the performance of advanced manufacturing investments and embrace advanced manufacturing solutions for turning their company towards a next-generation factory with more competitive, smarter and sustainable production ('factory of the future' concept). Besides access to such advice and expertise, also retraining and up-skilling of personnel are vital for the uptake of advanced technologies by industry, and SMEs in particular.
It is demonstrated that the skills required by SMEs to deploy and innovate with advanced technologies are best acquired through practical trainings in environments where advanced technologies can be demonstrated and tested by engineers and other relevant professionals (e.g. learning by doing, learning factories, fab labs). Such environments are often an underused source for training activities. Some technology centres in Europe are providing technology facilities and services to SMEs including trainings, but these centres are not evenly distributed across Europe. Besides practical trainings, the curricula in the vocational education is insufficiently addressing advanced technologies and collaboration with other relevant actors, including technology centres.
The objective is to reinforce the competitiveness of manufacturing SMEs by providing easy and pan-European access to advanced manufacturing advice and expertise as well as training programmes. The services to be provided to the SME should be driven by its business needs and the implementation must be flexible and fast to better cope with the speed of innovation in advanced manufacturing and the SME requirements.
The action will consist of the two elements (which can be combined) listed below which will continue and expand the activities of the Advanced Manufacturing Support Centre :
- The roll-out of a pan-European advanced manufacturing assistance programme helping SMEs with the ambition to turn into a factory of the future: Reaching out to companies and assisting a critical mass of manufacturing SMEs with a view to transform their business towards a factory of the future with modern and sustainable production.
The coherent EU methodology, developed on the basis of good practices and existing initiatives within Member States and regions and tested through a small-scale pilot by the (virtual) European Advanced Manufacturing Support Centre, should be used as a basis for assisting companies to transform their organisation into a factory of the future. SMEs will be offered assistance to elaborate a transformation plan for their company and will also be coached and guided during the implementation phase of the plan to turn their company into a factory of the future. The transformation plan should take an integrated approach to advanced manufacturing and address the innovativeness of processes and products as well as the environmental and social sustainability of manufacturing, as outlined in the EU methodology.
- The roll-out of an advanced manufacturing training programme which will consist of (1) Cross-border training services to be provided to a critical mass of SMEs in cooperation with technology or training centres capable of delivering training services to SMEs in advanced manufacturing and (2) The development of framework(s) for training programmes ready to be scaled-up under the European Social Fund.
The training services should include practical, "on-site" training delivered at facilities where technologies can be tested and demonstrated such as pilot lines (e.g. "learning by doing", "learning factories", fab labs). Proposals should include solutions to overcome the challenge of both geographical distance and the gender segregation.
The consortium will define quality criteria for the trainings. A quality label compatible with the European quality assurance reference framework for vocational education and training (EQAVET) should acknowledge the quality of the trainings provided.
For this second element of the topic, proposers are encouraged to also build on experiences from actions undertaken under the Blueprint for sectoral cooperation on skills and the identified pilot sectors identified in the Communication on a New Skills Agenda for Europe which could allow a smoother roll-out of the specific frameworks for training programmes.
The consortium should be formed by a group of partner organisations with proven track records in providing innovation and training services directly to SMEs in the area of advanced manufacturing. The involvement of vocational education and training centres will be necessary to ensure the long-term impact of frameworks for training programmes.
The projects should aim to achieve critical mass and to better exploit EU-added value. 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 criteria for selection of users and suppliers for which financial support will be granted.
A minimum share of 65% of the total budget shall be allocated to provide direct assistance and trainings (two elements listed above) to SMEs.
Wherever appropriate, actions could seek synergies and co-financing from relevant national/regional research and innovation programmes, or from structural funds addressing smart specialisation. Actions combining different sources of financing should include a concrete financial plan detailing the use of these funding sources for the different parts of their activities.
Proposers are encouraged to liaise with the Enterprise Europe Network and cluster organisations, in particular for outreach to SMEs having a potential and willingness to adopt advanced manufacturing solutions and/or with specific training needs. Liaison with the relevant regional and cluster partnerships set up in the context of the Smart Specialisation Platform for Industrial Modernisation and the European IPR Helpdesk is also encouraged.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 5.7 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Provide a clear and measurable contribution of the advanced manufacturing assistance and training programme to the innovation performance and environmental and social sustainability of the supported SMEs, as revealed by indicators such as: numbers of new or significantly improved production processes, products or services or new organisational methods; its impact on resource efficiency; its impact on productivity, production lead times, investments and/or turnover; number of SMEs that prepared a concrete plan to upgrade their manufacturing processes during the action; its impact on technical and nontechnical competences acquired and workers involvement; a wider impact on job creation is also expected to be measured in the longer term.
Frameworks for training programmes related to advanced manufacturing, ready for implementation within the duration of the action. These should propose a pathway on how to facilitate a further scaling-up under the European Social Fund.