DiPP - Digitally-enabled manufacturing: the factory of the future at a glance

28 Apr 2016
8:30 AM – 10:00 AM CEST
14 Rue de la Science (7th floor), 1040 Brussels

In the future things will be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibly and with a much lower input of labour, thanks to new materials, completely new processes such as 3D printing, easy-to-use robots and new collaborative manufacturing services available online.


  • Dana Eleftheriadou

    Digital entrepreneurship, digital transformation of industry, DG GROW

  • Dieter Wegener

    Head External Cooperation, Siemens Corporate Technology

  • Peter Leys

    Executive Chairman of the Board, Materialise


  • John Higgins

    Director General at DIGITALEUROPE

Siemens opened the workshop by explaining that the impact of digital transformation on manufacturing, that takes several forms (see the attached presentation) digitisation and integration of horizontal and vertical value chains, where each physical value chain gets in parallel its “digital twin”; digitisation of product and service offerings (Smart Products); innovative digital business models (Smart Services). In many ways it combines the resources of the shop and office floors. More broadly, the digitised economy merges physical and virtual worlds and makes the most of their respective assets in all sorts of fields: energy, mobility, health, etc. This development is global, as illustrated by the cooperation between Industry 4.0, other national initiatives, AIOTI and IIC (Industrial Internet Consortium). Ultimately, the Internet of Things and Services will connect everything at all times. Ever-increasing flexibility will keep reducing time-to-market in the best interest of industry and customers.

Materialise started small and with a huge problem to fix almost overnight. Addressing this original challenge successfully informed the whole business model of home-grown software that builds on shop-floor experience. Today additive manufacturing is permeating the entire value-chain. The original prototyping business is going through its own version of digital transformation. Yet roadblocks loom on the way to decentralised production – not to be confused with ‘democratised’ production – as it challenges quality control: for instance, put a sophisticated 3D-printer in every hospital and expect trouble as not every surgeon is versed with this technology. Furthermore, customised implants are not compliant almost by definition in so far as they deviate from the standards concerned. Actually, the digital disruption makes industry and regulators shift from approving products to approving processes.

Quality control is not the only challenge met when design gets disconnected from the physical output: IPRs, liability, tax, all these issues had to be dealt with by industries like music or movies on going through the digital revolution. Deregulation is not the answer to these complex issues, smart regulation is. Indeed, ‘flight-by-night operators’ and other cow-boys may easily send trust in a tailspin: low quality generates accidents which in turn elicit doubt in technology.

That’s where policy making comes into play. Policy makers seem to have got the message. The modernisation of Europe’s industry is a key pillar of the Commission’s objective to boost industrial competitiveness, growth and jobs. The European Commission wants to use ICT as an enabler of the EU’s considerable legacy of world-class industrial assets so that Europe stays on top of the global rankings. There is room for improvement indeed: less than 2% of European business use leading-edge digital tools such as Big Data, IoT, mobile, etc, adequately; more than 40% don’t use any of those. The Communication released on 19 April aims to bring about a set of remedies: better governance; enhanced PPPs; network of digital innovation hubs; better coordination at regional level; future-proof regulation; new skills and comprehensive re-skilling. The backdrop is a determination to spot unneeded regulation and get rid of it in the spirit of ‘Better Regulation’. No regulatory monster in the making.

Investment is not a major concern as services substitute products and access does ownership. The Strategic Policy Forum on Digital Entrepreneurship found that investment is much needed in reliable, ICT-enabled testing so that no operator will cut corners in cybersecurity, for instance.

At the end of the day, finding a properly balanced governance between EU, national and regional levels will inform the success of what looks like a most promising and well-thought out European initiative.

For more information, please contact:
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