European technology research must adapt says EU report

European research into manufacturing technologies needs to adapt to the fast-changing global economy, according to an EU strategy group.

European research into manufacturing technologies needs to adapt to the fast-changing global economy, according to an EU strategy group.

The latest report from the Manufacture Technology Platform (MTP) — the EU’s strategy group for manufacturing industry — proposes setting up a European Manufacturing Innovation and Research Area (EMIRA) to boost research into new engineering techniques.

The ultimate aim of EMIRA would be to encourage the design, manufacture and distribution of new products. The report calls for ‘the implementation of supportive fiscal and legislative frameworks’ to ensure that Europe does not lag behind its competitors in manufacturing research.

The MTP, which includes representatives from industry and finance, aims to predict the priorities for manufacturing research in the EU and define a strategy for meeting those priorities.

Its strategic research agenda, launched at a conference last week at Rolls-Royce’s Derby headquarters, claims that there need to be ‘step-changes in manufacturing engineering capabilities and the engineering tools that are applied’, while ‘skills in innovation and entrepreneurship must be enhanced’.

The report re-states that the EU’s priority areas for industrial research are innovative materials, nanotechology, mechatronics and information and communications technologies, but puts a new emphasis on the way research is implemented.

‘The business focus must shift from designing and selling physical products, to supplying a system of products and services that are jointly capable of fulfilling users’ demands,’ according to the MTP. This also applies to the factories where products are made, the report says.

Research needs to be directed at developing the ‘virtual factory’, where original equipment manufacturers work closely with suppliers of equipment, materials and services, adapting continuously to take account of customer needs and market conditions.

Such factories ‘will not be limited by the presumption of physical co-location, nor by a need to maintain rigid long-term relationships,’ claims the report.

The report says that as part of the European Research Area — a ‘common market’ for research in the EU — EMIRA would ‘promote the interests of European manufacturing industry, take account of regional and national needs, promote participation to European programmes and recognise Europe’s wider role in the global research and technology network.’