Over the past five years the European Union has made significant advances in additive manufacturing, 3D printing, M2M communications, and Internet of Things connectivity in industrial applications.
Some people say that Germans are square minded, that they are extremely conservative and traditional about their industry, procedures, and manufacturing techniques. While in many cases that is true, and a good thing, Germany is now the driving force behind the industrial revolution that is reshaping the entire European manufacturing ecosystem.
There are many reasons Germany is leading the change. For starters, there is their tradition of excellence in quality and workmanship. Another is their world famous apprenticeship program.
What really makes Germany stand apart from other countries, however, is the way it gathered all players in its society to launch an industrial revolution for the 21st century. The country, led by the federal government under their Industrie 4.0 initiative, has been forming public-private-partnerships, cross-enterprise co-ops and new training programs at several universities and technical schools.
Obviously, due to Germany’s leadership in manufacturing and economic strength, many other EU member states are following its lead and joining the German initiative. The European Commission, through its Horizon 2020 program, is also helping several countries and industries to conduct research and experiment with new technologies to retrofit their manufacturing.
Over the past five years the European Union has made significant advances in additive manufacturing, 3D printing, M2M communications, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity in industrial applications.
HP is one example. Its worldwide large-format and 3D printing research center, located in the Barcelona area, introduced the HP Jet Fusion series this year, the first generation of industrial large-format 3D printers. These units are a significant step toward make 3D printing a serious alternative to traditional manufacturing, especially for small series or specialized parts.
In his bestselling book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin points out that
3D printers, products can also be customized to create a single product or small batches designed to order, at minimum cost. Centralized factories, with their capital-intensive economies of scale and expensive fixed-production lines designed for mass production, lack the agility to compete with a 3D production process that can create a single customized product at virtually the same unit cost as it can producing 100,000 copies of the same item.
European Commission Strategy
"The industrial revolution of our time is digital. We need the right scale for technologies such as cloud computing, data-driven science and the internet of things to reach their full potential,” said
Andrus Ansip, EU vice president for the digital single market. “As companies aim to scale up across the Single Market, public e-services should also meet today's needs: be digital, open and cross-border by design. The EU is the right scale for the digital times."
To understand better the status of the new industrial revolution in Europe, so-called industry 4.0, I sat down with Carl Gisleskog, digital technology advisor at the European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA).
Andrus Ansip. Source: EU Commission
Gisleskog said the new European Commission’s administration, which took office in November 2014, has a clear mandate to steer European manufacturing to adopt new technologies and procedures to keep European factories competitive and, additionally, to move high-tech manufacturing back to Europe.
One of the main challenges, Gisleskog noted, is the current disconnect between traditional manufacturing and advanced digital technologies. Most factories have very little, or no, personnel trained in digital disciplines, since most engineers who graduate in digital fields are looking for employment in pure digital enterprises or startups.
That is why the EU is driving its “Factories of the Future 2020” public-private partnership as the basis for research and the overall direction of research under Horizon 2020, the European framework for innovation, Gisleskog said.
Factories of the Future priorities and topic areas -- including 3D printing, cyber-physical systems, IoT, robotics and customization -- are clearly identified in the communication as highly important for the digitization of industry and are already being addressed in’ projects.
Currently, the roadmap identifies and drives these transformations by pursuing a set of research priorities on the following areas:
- Advanced manufacturing processes
- Adaptive and smart manufacturing systems
- Digital, virtual and resource-efficient factories
- Collaborative and mobile enterprises
- Human-centred manufacturing
- Customer-focused manufacturing
Günther H. Oettinger, EU commissioner for the digital economy and society also said, "Europe has a very competitive industrial base and is a global leader in important sectors. But Europe will only be able to maintain its leading role if the digitization of its industry is successful and reached fast. Our proposals aim to ensure that this happens. It requires a joint effort across Europe to attract the investments we need for growth in the digital economy."