Steinbeis experts and Hahn-Schickard help SMEs gain access to digital technology
Cyber-physical systems (CPS) play an important strategic role in systematically digitalizing European companies. The first successful projects carried out by the European Commission, individual member states, and companies can already be gauged and evaluated. S2i and Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum picked up on these trends several years ago and have been involved in a number of CPS projects ever since. The Steinbeis experts help companies, universities, and research institutions to consolidate their work in this area, and this includes European collaboration.
The European Commission considers CPS an important part of Industry 4.0 and is providing the field with financial and tangible support through programs such as the Smart Anything Everywhere (SAE) initiative, the Digitizing European Industry initiative, and other activities organized under Research Framework Program Horizon 2020. As a key area of future technology, CPS is revolutionizing the global networking of embedded systems by offering ways to monitor and control the physical processes of sensors and actuators through the internet. The new production systems and business models this is leading to are helping to safeguard the competitiveness of European companies, also helping to underscore the innovative power of Europe.
Many SMEs feel they need to take urgent action when it comes to CPS, although there have been positive developments in a number of member states of the EU. The main obstacle they encounter is actually introducing CPS and the unpredictable nature of acquisition costs. Although it is already apparent that digitalization will bring about sweeping changes in processes and innovation at manufacturing companies in the coming decades, SMEs across Germany tend to be reticent about investing in new production systems and manufacturing equipment. This unwillingness to make investments stems from the lack of uniform standards, insufficient digital infrastructures, and the growing threat posed by cyber attacks. For companies to successfully defend their position in the market, the experts agree that managers responsible for decision- making need to act quickly and plot the right course for a digital future.
For a number of years, Steinbeis 2i GmbH and Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum has been providing SMEs with support on the road to CPS implementation. As part of two current Horizon 2020 projects backed by the EU, Platforms4CPS and Smart4Europe, Steinbeis 2i is helping the European Commission and businesses in their research activities and helping them gain access to digital technology.
As the global market leader in time- and safety-critical systems, it is particularly important that Europe be in a position to design, develop, and deliver highly complex and networked digital solutions. The Platforms4CPS initiative was launched in November 2016 with the aim of providing companies with support, particularly in the fields of transportation, production, energy, and healthcare. The Platforms4CPS group is developing a vision, strategy and technology toolkit to promote ecosystems required for future CPS applications. The aim is to introduce strategic measures for future CPS by providing roadmaps, sharing results, and setting up a community. Platforms4CPS is a two-year coordination and assistance initiative backed by the European Commission and coordinated by Thales SA alongside seven partners from four European countries. Steinbeis 2i is acting as a project partner on the initiative, providing expertise on roadmapping, transnational technology transfer, the application of project results, and market studies.
In recent years, products and services have increasingly focused on innovation and digital solutions. High-profile examples include consumer goods such as smartphones, driverless cars, and Industry 4.0 solutions (smart production). As a result, the key question posed as the Smart4Eu rope project kicked off in September 2017 was: What can be done to optimize how this potential is exploited? It should be easier for SMEs to get into digital transformation technology. The Smart4Europe initiative is being spearheaded by the Hahn Schickard Institute in Villingen- Schwenningen. Work at the institute revolves around areas such as smart systems integration (SSI) and CPS. The experts working on the SAE project consider SSI and CPS to be crucial basic technologies for digital transformation. Steinbeis 2i is the second partner from the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and it is involved in all key activities. It is also managing tasks relating to expansion of the innovation ecosystem and establishing this as a more permanent feature in the long term. Steinbeis 2i brings valuable experience to the project in the areas of innovation management, technology transfer, and trans-European networking. For example, it works with partners in over 50 countries as part of the Enterprise Europe Network.
The Smart4Europe project will result in the setting up of a web-based innovation portal that will also act as a service center. To underpin this, Smart4Europe is fostering the exchange of ideas between industry players at the European Commission, the Smart Anything Everywhere initiative, and SMEs. This is taking place at international collaboration workshops, resulting in a kind of technology radar for identifying technologies that would be beneficial to the SAE. The growing number of projects and companies under the Smart Anything Everywhere umbrella will span different areas of technology and roles with the innovation cycle. Smart4Europe will ensure all key players are involved and will help the network to grow organically. The coordination and support provided through the Smart4Europe initiative lasts two years, and the seven project partners are focusing on SMEs, the European Commission, and the Smart Anything Everywhere initiative.