One of the major conference of the year on the future of manufacturing in Europe has been held in Brussels last 15th and 16th September. The European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA), a non-for-profit, public-private partnership unveiled its Factory 4.0. vision. The conference opening keynote has been addressed by the European commissioner for digital economy and society, Mr. Oettinger, who described how novel technologies are rapidly gaining more relevance in the European market. Even though most of the advancements in digital innovation seem to be brought by “external disrupters”, mainly from the U.S., European companies are demonstrating the capability to adapt to the new economic challenges manufacturing enterprises are facing in the last years. Digital technologies are seen as the foremost enabling leverage towards the effective reshoring of manufacturing companies. Manufacturing is key for Europe since it employs more than 30 million people and encompasses more than 2 million companies. In bridging the gap between the current state of the market towards the Industry 4.0 vision, it is expected that almost every enterprise will need to create a digital representation of the entire manufacturing processes in order to respond to volatile customer behaviours and market changes. After the Mr. Oettinger's speech, the event continued with the presentations of key industry experts:

  • Heinz Neubert – Vice President Corporate Technology – Siemens
  • Urban Wass – Senior Vice President Innovation and Research Policy – Volvo Group
  • Peter Post – Chairman Head of Research – FESTO
  • Rainer Rauh – Vice President & Head of Global Innovation – Airbus

Although coming from different fields, Mr. Wass outlined the similarity of the Volvo's vision regarding digitalisation and other companies’ ones. Horizontal integration across the value chain and vertical integration were two of the key aspects mentioned by the speakers. The experts claimed that although vertical integration has been partially achieved in their companies, horizontal integration practices still need a big move forward. Eventually, several other speakers from the industry field and academic institutions highlighted how both legacy systems and recent factory resources will be ever more cyber-ized through smart sensors and computing techniques such as agent-based modelling in order to improve efficiency and quality while reducing the environmental impact and reducing costs.