Brussels, 09 Dec 2004
Today, Europe's manufacturing industry directly contributes around 22 per cent of EU GDP. However, it is estimated that each job in manufacturing is linked to two jobs in manufacturing related services, ensuring that an estimated 75 per cent of EU GDP and 70 per cent of jobs depend on the manufacturing sector.
As a result, many analysts believe that if Europe is to become the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010, the presence of a strong and competitive manufacturing sector is indispensable. In this context, the Commission invited a high level group of executives from research organisations and industry to develop a shared vision of the way ahead for EU manufacturing, and on 6 December they published the report 'MANUFUTURE - a vision for 2020'.
The MANUFUTURE vision is intended as a tool to guide the future development of manufacturing in Europe, including a strategic research agenda to shape manufacturing activities under the framework programmes and other initiatives such as Eureka, and possibly leading to the creation of a 'MANUFUTURE platform', along similar lines to other European Technology Platforms (ETPs).
In its report, the high level group concluded that a European economy based on service industries alone cannot survive in the long term, but there is a clear need to transform manufacturing from a resource-intensive to a knowledge-intensive and innovative sector. This demands a competitive research and development (R&D) system, which in turn is based on favourable framework conditions, the adaptation of education and training schemes, and access to adequate R&D infrastructures.
While European manufacturing displays a number of strengths, for example the availability of some leading edge research capabilities in a number of Member States and the introduction of principles of sustainable development, the high level group also identified two key weaknesses: low productivity growth, particularly compared with the US, and a weakness in innovation activity. Of the latter, the report states that: 'The EU does not suffer from a lack of new ideas, but it is not so good at transforming these into new products and processes.'
As a result, the EU needs to continue to invest in research and innovation in order to try to provide the technologies that the rest of the world desires but cannot necessarily develop for itself; protect discoveries and intellectual property to provide innovators with incentives; and develop framework conditions to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.
With these conditions in place, the high level group predicts that the sector will begin to change in a number of ways. First, they will have the desired effect of moving the sector from a resource-based to a knowledge-based model. 'The scientific engineering knowledge content of manufactured products was estimated to be around 5 per cent in 1945 and has grown to some 16 per cent now. The target for 2020 should be at least 20 per cent,' states the report.
The industry will move from mono-disciplinarity to a system based on multi-competence and multi-disciplinary innovation, and production scales will move from the macro to the micro and nano scale. Further into the future, the group foresees a fundamental switch in the nature of production: 'Over a longer timescale of, perhaps, 20 to 50 years, it is to be hoped that scientists will solve the problems of mimicking nature, making it possible to move from today's top-down methods to bottom-up manipulation of individual atoms and molecules.'
A detailed strategic research agenda will be published shortly, and will be used to identify priority research topics for the future of manufacturing in Europe. These activities would be facilitated by the creation of a MANUFUTURE platform, says the group, and the report makes a number of recommendations as to its structure. 'The platform should have more of a horizontal nature than that of other ETPs, as it addresses the entire manufacturing sector [...]. Its main role would be to govern research, technological development and innovation (RTDI) efforts aimed at the transition of European manufacturing at two levels: [policy and operational].'
The high level group concludes that although 'the vision of MANUFUTURE is long-term, [...] this should not be used as a justification to postpone implementation. A number of implementation plans will therefore be formulated, consistent with the step-wise development of the strategic research agenda and aiming at mobilising stakeholders and resources at the most appropriate levels.'
For further information, please consult the following web address:
http:///europa.eu.int/comm/research/indus trial_technologies/manufuture/home_en.ht ml
For further information on Technology Platforms, please visit:
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