In DIGITAL REGIONS, or ‘Regional policies adopting Industry 4.0 for their Digital Transformation’ project, we are working together to address a common challenge: How to support the manufacturing sector by adapting innovation policies for Industry 4.0 (I4.0), the 4th industrial revolution.

I4.0 is already well underway and offers manufacturing dramatically increased agility, flexibility, productivity and capability to produce new products. Typically it involves advanced & disruptive technologies, deep & wide-spread process changes and needs for upskilling and re-training in the work-force. This level of change typically challenges smaller companies the most. It matters because adoption of I4.0 is crucial to maintaining competitiveness and to future survival in the manufacturing sector.

What have we achieved in the Project?

Significant gaps have been identified in the readiness of SMEs for Industry 4.0 across all regions. The project has identified gaps and opportunities in regional and national innovation policies using a common methodology. This allows an objective comparison across partner regions and provides the project’s input for policy change.

An online survey has been conducted with the majority of the responses from micro and small businesses, about 60-70% reaching 80% in Bulgaria and lower at 50% in Germany. The responses came from across a wide range of sectors and indicated:

  • Knowledge on I4.0 concept: Is mostly low or superficial at around 60% with low knowledge.
  • Motivation to face the challenge of I4.0: Of most importance are new products/services (key for SI, RO, IE) and also increase in productivity (84% PT, 78% DE, CH). Up-skilling was also viewed as key.
  • Challenges in relation to I4.0/digital transformation: The majority of respondents believe they do have not enough time, resources competence or knowledge to invest in the digitalization.
  • Digital Strategy: Over 65% do not have a digital strategy in their business.
  • Awareness of support: 60-70% do not know of any initiatives supporting I4.0 or digital transformation. Noteworthy were response levels from the surveys of several regions that there is no need for support for I4.0 ( 88% DE, 74% PT, 60% RO, 33% SI).
  • Awareness of funding: The majority of respondees are not aware of I4.0 funding and this was highest in SI with 91%, lowest CH 50%.

The survey results for the project’s 8 regions reveal a similar pattern across the 8 regions: Knowledge of I4.0 is low, awareness of I4.0 related supports and funding is low and many businesses face resource challenges to take advantage of I4.0. This is despite the fact that the participant regions range from Strong, Moderate to Modest Innovators (ref the European Regional Innovation Score ranking RIS 2019).

The Methodology

The analysis in each regions has covered aspects to facilitate I4.0 adoption in SME’s such as: availability of I4.0 related facilities, initiatives and ecosystems, supporting programmes and the required future I4.0 workforce and skills. The analysis has been carried out following a 3-step approach with Macro-analysis of national and regional indicators with relevance to the implementation of Industry 4.0 technology. Micro-analysis with the survey plus regional focus workshops to review and analyse results. Benchmark: A consolidated assessment and comparison of all partner regions to help to identify commonalities and complementarities regarding the existing challenges and opportunities.