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Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) – A European Priority for Industrial Modernisation

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Key Enabling Technologies (KETs) are an EU policy concept that was introduced in 2009 to stimulate critical mass for research and innovation in novel and complex technologies, to boost industrial competitiveness, and to promote European re-industrialisation (European Parliament). KETs have been central in Horizon 2020, the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2014-2020, with an allocation of about 30 billion EUR. The European Commission sees KETs as a non-sectoral, strategic, and integrated approach to the development and deployment of new technologies to promote industrial modernisation.

Definition of Key Enabling Technologies (KETs)

KETs are knowledge intensive [technologies] associated with high R&D intensity, rapid innovation cycles, high capital expenditure and highly skilled employment. They enable process, goods and service innovation throughout the economy and are of systemic relevance. They are multidisciplinary, cutting across many technology areas with a trend towards convergence and integration. KETs can assist technology leaders in other fields to capitalise on their research efforts (European Commission)

KETs are generic technologies that, alone or more often in combination with other

, form the basis of a range of new products and processes used in manufacturing (see our policy brief on
). In Horizon 2020, six KETs were strategic, namely, nanotechnologies, photonics, advanced materials, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing. In the current framework programme 2021-2027, Horizon Europe, the following six KETs are being prioritised, namely, advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, life-science technologies, micro/nano-electronics and photonics, artificial intelligence, and security and connectivity (European Commission).

Five Interreg Europe projects are particularly active in promoting and delivering better policies regarding KETs, they are:

  • INNO PROVEMENT supports SMEs to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies.
  • NMP-REG helps diffuse nanotechnologies and advanced materials to regional manufacturing companies.
  • P2L2 aims to improve the delivery of public policies to support innovation in advanced materials.
  • SMARTPILOTS supports shared pilot facilities in biotechnologies and the bio-economy.
  • STEPHANIE aims to promote space technologies based on photonics.

Interreg Europe projects have identified many good practices to promote KETs and can inspire European regions to deliver better policies to develop and deploy new technologies to promote industrial modernisation.

Centres of Competence (CoCs) can facilitate the adoption of KETs. In NMP-REG, CeNTI - Centre of Nanotechnology and Smart Material is a centre of competence, with a multi-sectoral orientation and equipped with cutting-edge technologies, that promotes research and innovation in smart and functional materials and systems in Norte Portugal.

Joint cross-border projects can accelerate the uptake of KETs. In STEPHANIE, the Regional Collaboration on Key Enabling Technologies (ROCKET) is an initiative to foster Dutch-German cooperation to diffuse KETs to SMEs. The initiative aims to facilitate joint cross-border projects by supporting stakeholders moving-up the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) as well as to overcome collaboration barriers related to cultural, legislative, and language differences.

Roadmaps can help SMEs identify technological bottlenecks and opportunities. In INNO PROVEMENT, the Technology and Industrial Modernisation Roadmaps promote the uptake for SMEs of Industry 4.0 technologies in the Czech Republic. The initiative offers support to identify bottlenecks and opportunities for SMEs to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies and KETs to increase their productivity and overall competitiveness. The technology roadmap defines the technology needs, stages and specific steps leading to SMEs’ industrial modernisation.

The simplification of application procedures for public calls accelerates technological deployment. In STEPHANIE, the Institute of Applied Physics 'Nello Carrara' (IFAC) and the Regional Government of Tuscany have introduced policy changes to promote the aerospace and photonic sectors: besides the inclusion of the aerospace and photonic sectors in its S3 with a dedicated technology roadmap, the Tuscany region has introduced new calls for projects in the aerospace and photonic sectors and technologies. The new calls for projects foresee simplified procedures that were developed following some inspiring examples discovered in STEPHANIE partners: the Regional Collaboration on Key Enabling Technologies (Düsseldorf, DE) that offers fast-track procedures for project funding, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), a Dutch programme to support innovative business in a fast, simple, and flexible way. The simplified procedures encourage the use of certified external controllers for SMEs when applying and in the monitoring phases thus reducing public administration burdens and reducing the time for projects’ approval (45 days instead of 90).

Read the European Parliament Report on Horizon 2020: Key Enabling Technologies, Booster for European Leadership in the Manufacturing Sector

Image credit: Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash