European research supports industry in digital transformation

Matias Vierimaa,
Riikka Virkkunen

"Europe needs industry to become greener, more circular and more digital", says the European Union’s new industrial strategy. "Our challenge is to ensure that all industrial sectors make the best use of new technologies and manage their transition towards higher value digitised products and processes, commonly known as Industry 4.0", the former commissioner announced five years ago. How are these ambitions being put into practice?

European research and innovation collaboration is making Industry4.0 a reality. Joining forces in partnerships, such as ECSEL (Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership) Joint Undertaking and Factories of the Future, enables the break down of the overall strategies into down-to-earth practices that companies can adopt. Partnerships like these spark roadmaps for digital transformation and influential research projects to design, develop and test novel technologies in industrial settings. These partnerships also help to align national and European agendas to avoid overlaps and enhance the impact of research. Naturally, partnerships also channel funding. For example, the Factories of the Future partnership is European Union's €1.15 billion initiative focusing on the renewal of manufacturing sector. The ECSEL-JU partnerships’ EU and national funding has been €2 billion, of which a substantial part has been directed to digitalisation of industry.

Boosting Finnish participation in European collaboration

In Finland, Business Finland supports several large research programs for renewing industry.  In particular, the ongoing Sustainable Manufacturing Finland -program targets manufacturing industries with an emphasis on the digital transformation of industry. The Finnish national programs also encourage companies to utilise European cooperation in order to develop expertise, and find research and business partners. In particular, the ecosystems supported by Business Finland are excellent candidates for European research collaboration as they already share ambitions and agendas with each other and invest in the adoption of novel technologies. 

VTT helps industry to enter into European collaborations and to benefit from EU funding. As VTT is active in national digitalisation initiatives as well as in European research programs and partnerships, VTT can connect Finnish efforts to European ones, and support companies in finding the right topics and best consortia. Even the smallest companies can benefit from EU funding either by participating in the consortia or by taking advantage of SME dedicated funds. From digital technologies point of view, typical topics addressed are related to adopting digital twins, artificial intelligence, robotics, industrial internet, and data sharing solutions in industry. In the planned Horizon Europe and Digital Europe Program investments in digital technology adoption will continue.

Working together at strategic level

In addition to being partner in solving industrial challenges, VTT also influences the content of the European digital industry programs and agendas. As an example, VTT is coordinating Connected Factories 2 CSA -project that creates digitalisation pathways for manufacturing companies together with 19 European partners. The results help to get a structured overview of available and upcoming technological approaches and best practices with regard to the digitalisation of manufacturing. Project outcomes are discussed with industry in national workshops, also in Finland. In addition, ConnectedFactories supports EFFRA (European Factories of the Future Association) and the Commission in outlining the new manufacturing partnership Made-In-Europe. VTT is also participating in CSA-Industry4.E strategic action project. The aim of this action is to identify research gaps between a multitude of roadmaps and research projects in Industry 4.0 and identify new topics for future ECSEL-JU research calls, in addition to promoting cooperation between different Industry4.E lighthouse projects and promoting industry4.0 in general.

These CSA projects are extremely important in influencing the future agendas and in enhancing collaboration with top European partners.

VTT encourages companies to exploit opportunities available at a European level. Participation in common agenda setting and in the project consortia helps to accelerate digital transformation and to find new networks, talent and customers. VTT is there to support industry to join the European research and innovation community.

Matias Vierimaa
Matias Vierimaa
Riikka Virkkunen
Riikka Virkkunen
Professor of Practice