CECIMO’s Robert Nefkens speaks at EC workshop on technology transfer

11 February 2015

CECIMO took part in the workshop “SMEs readiness factors for adopting Advanced Manufacturing products and modernise their business”, organized by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. According to the EC, manufacturing SMEs in Europe and beyond are under increasing pressure today for adopting advanced technologies and products in order to stay competitive and successfully participate in local and global supply chains. The workshop gave rise to vivid debates as regards the readiness factors of SMEs for technology adoption and ways of accelerating the dissemination of advanced manufacturing technologies in Europe.
European Commission’s Bonifacio Garcia Porras (Head of Unit – Innovation Policy For Growth) stated that advanced manufacturing is a priority in the European Commission’s work programme and there is political will to implement measures geared at modernizing the industrial tissue in Europe. The European Commission Task Force on Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, led by Garcia Porras, is working on measures which will support the development and dissemination of the state-of-the-art production equipment and technologies in the European industry as well as the entire range of innovations taking place around it, such as value added services, resource and energy efficiency, smart manufacturing and workplace innovation. The initiative has a clear objective of enhancing the competitive position of European manufacturers - in particular SMEs which are the backbone of the EU economy - in an increasingly globalized marketplace to help them tap into growth opportunities.
CECIMO was represented at the workshop by CECIMO delegate Robert Nefkens, Managing Director, Hembrug B.V. Mr. Nefkens highlighted that the machine tool industry is a key provider of advanced manufacturing solutions to SMEs in Europe and a key enabler of productivity, process efficiency and product innovation in end-user industries. “SMEs who want to invest in new manufacturing equipment and systems turn firstly to supplier companies to ask for solutions before going to universities or government agencies and programmes. SMEs take the investment decision if the supplier can reassure them as regards the benefits of the new system and the expected return on investment”, stated Mr. Nefkens. Therefore, ‘testability’ is essential to demonstrate the capabilities of new equipment and processes to SMEs, and to remove uncertainties which underpin their risk perception.
Mr. Nefkens called on the EC and Member State governments to support financially (be it via EU structural funds or national schemes) the building of testing platforms, either hosted in supplier companies or in technology centers. Such infrastructure is often too expensive for small-sized suppliers to afford. . As far as research funding is concerned, he stressed that SMEs would highly benefit from small scale, local, light and quick schemes which support actions that provide production solutions to real-life challenges of user companies. Another idea that was raised during the event and received support from Nefkens was the creation of an EC Directory to enhance the visibility and accessibility of manufacturing research & technology capabilities across the EU to SMEs. “Since advanced manufacturing is a complex field, you may not always find specific capabilities in your region or country.” he said.
Other best practices discussed during the event include the ICT-based manufacturing technology transfer experiments under the I4MS programme of the EC, Belgium’s Made Different initiative, and the Go-Effizient initiative and the innovation voucher scheme in Germany1. It has been agreed that government support to SMEs, be it via research grants, loan guarantees or public-private partnership, leads to investments which would not have taken place otherwise. Workshop participants have agreed that targeted financial support to SMEs’ modernization pay off in terms of business growth, employment opportunities in highly-skilled occupations and innovation spill-over across industry value chains in Europe.
At the end of the workshop, Dr. Nikos Pantalos (European Commission) concluded that an integrated approach is needed to assist manufacturing SMEs, starting with a clear and ambitious strategy, bringing together highly competent advisors, research organisations, testing facilities and then exploiting different financing models and tools for SMEs. The question that the Commission’s Task Force on Advanced Manufacturing Technologies is going to tackle next is how to create a fertile and dynamic local "ecosystem" helping manufacturing SMEs adopting advanced manufacturing technologies and products.

1 Go-Effizient is an example of an effective ‘lean’ subsidy. The requirement is that innovation vouchers can be used cross-border, and not only with research institutes but also companies who have the required knowledge in house.