Event report: How the digital transformation of manufacturing will get Europe back on its feet
Digital technologies have been keeping our society running during the COVID-19 crisis. But what is their role in Europe’s recovery?
DIGITALEUROPE’s debate “After the crisis: how the digital transformation can help Europe get back on its feet” brought together policymakers, industry leaders, and researchers to discuss how the digital transformation of European manufacturing can create sustainable growth and jobs in the post-COVID-19 world.
DIGITALEUROPE’s event “After the crisis: how the digital transformation can help Europe get back on its feet” on 28 May was joined by over two hundred participants, and it came at a timely moment, as the role of digital in the European recovery is sparking debate.
After Director-General Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl kicked off the discussion by highlighting how collaboration between IT and industry will be crucial to drive sustainable growth and jobs, the panelists exchanged views on what’s needed to really bring the European manufacturing industry to the next level.
Anthony Whelan, Digital Policy Adviser to European Commission President von der Leyen, outlined the pillars behind the recently unveiled EU budget and recovery fund: a green, digital, more resilient European industry, using new and existing instruments to encourage investments in green and digital technologies.
Dieter Wegener, spokesperson for ZVEI, Germany’s electronic manufacturing industry, and representative of DIGITALEUROPE’s Digital Manufacturing Executive Council, explained how key technologies such as broadband and 5G infrastructure, artificial intelligence (AI), and Industrial Internet of Things will be key to secure increased production and sustainable supply chains.
Mieke De Ketelaere, Programme Director of Artificial Intelligence at the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) in Leuven, brought in her research perspective. “We haven’t seen yet a huge application of AI in the industry mainly for two reasons: explainability and costs” she said.
Marc Vancoppenolle, Global Head of Government Relations at Nokia, highlighted another major gap that’s standing in the way of digital manufacturing: lack of fast and reliable internet connection. “Without the swift rollout of 5G” he stressed, “the European industrial revolution won’t happen”.
Patrik Sjostedt, EMEA Regional Business Leader at Microsoft, argued that many of the trends we’re seeing – including the shift to virtual environment of whole engineering or R&D departments, as well as remote monitoring and digital twins – are here to stay. But this reshaping of ways of working and supply chains won’t be possible without upskilling and reskilling the current workforce, as well as attracting new talent.
Finally, Abraham Liu, Chief Representative to the EU institutions at Huawei, made a plea for open, more inclusive global supply chains. “Europe has a very strong industry” he concluded. “If you add connectivity to the picture, you enable a strong ecosystem for the digital transformation of the industry, and ultimately support the European Green Deal.”
The debate was also the chance to highlight Europe’s own industry champions who were able to reconfigure their production processes to deal with COVID-19. One of those is Nokia’s factory in Oulu, Finland, thanks to the digital wireless infrastructure already in place.
Another success story showcased was Microsoft’s Open Manufacturing Platform, which aims at solving common problems through industry collaboration and knowledge sharing. The real game-changer in this project is bringing down data silos by connecting different expertise and domains between technology and industry.