Work programme: Innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises 

Planned opening date: 04 August 2020 Deadline: 01 December 2020 17:00:00 Brussels time 

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