The European Files is a political, economical and social magazine destined to European institutions. The magazine’s goal is to serve as a real work tool, helping in the decision-making process. Each file provides a global vision on specific subjects, dealt with at a European level, by regrouping industry, parliament and European government contributions.

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January 2017 – n°45

Laurent Ulmann, Editor-in-chief, The European Files

Industry 4.0:
The New Industrial Revolution for Europe

Industry 4.0 is the combination of new technologies and organization of labor to push manufacturing into a new realm of optimization. It is a trend that focuses on creating smart factories through innovative communication and design between machines and humans. As a leader in high-tech manufacturing, Europe is well placed to promote this transition to Industry 4.0. The European Commission is actively involved in outlining areas of cooperation and investment in this transition. However there still a lot of potential that is not exploited. As the economy continues to digitalize, it is important that firms transform to integrate the digital world into their functioning. Through the support of the European Union (EU), the adoption and adaptation of new industry should benefit all citizens and provide a more sustainable and optimized model for economic growth.

At the forefront of this issue is the ability to adopt new key enabling technologies. These technologies are often pioneered by start-ups headquartered in different parts of Europe, making wider adoption and faster innovation more difficult for some sectors of industry. A key facet of a unified Europe is to provide a platform for the private sector to reach its market potential throughout the continent. Therefore, many proposals should be considered to connect businesses of all sizes to innovate around specific issues. Whether the solution is to promote innovation hubs or connect industry stakeholders through regional and issue-based platforms, the important point is that these options are made available and easy to integrate.

Firms should also encourage digitalization within their organizations as a motor for improved dialogue and interactions for its employees. An organization that is better integrated is more efficient and provides its employees with better opportunities to perform. These changes should reflect the flexibility acquired through intelligent manufacturing networks. When machines are optimized, and human communication is too, productivity improves. A “Smart Factory” is one that synthesizes “cyber-physical” components that manage production across a virtual network.

Just as Industry 4.0 revolves around improving communication within the factory, the EU should promote transparency and cooperation between nations and industry sectors. If this is truly a solution for improved productivity and competitiveness, the EU’s main role is that of a facilitator. This means creating policies that enable adoption and regulatory frameworks that support the well being of all of Europe. The EU must consider the greater impact of automation on the rights and security of workers across Europe. What models of labor ensure quality contracts for future employees? The answer necessitates careful consideration and projection of the needs of future employees in Europe. These needs are dynamic and Industry 4.0 should provide a solution to the volatility of labor in the long-term.

Currently, the EU is gathering major stakeholders in the private sector, research and academia as well as business associations and trade unions to discuss what matters to them regarding education, security, and regulatory frameworks. It is imperative to present a positive image of Industry 4.0. This is done by highlighting the opportunities this approach to industry provides for SMEs just as it does for the larger public. A more integrated network of industry relies on strong infrastructure and high-quality education, all of which should be high priorities for European nations. This should facilitate improved technology as the fundamental driver of an advanced economy. Industries such as space, energy, and defense, depend on cutting-edge research to grow. They represent a large playing field to promote an EU-wide approach to Industry 4.0, with benefits felt through Europe.

Ultimately, the objective of this initiative is to take Europe’s industry to a more advanced future. This means improved quality and efficiency with reduced production costs and delays. A framework for a liberated labor market should complement this in a way that mimics the gains of an integrated manufacturing network. This issue of the European Files carefully considers the approach necessary for a successful transition to a new industrial revolution.

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