Interview to Silesia Automotive & Advanced Manufacturing Cluster
1. What is your role in the EACN project?
The Silesia Automotive & Advanced Manufacturing cluster (SA&AM), managed by the Katowice Special Economic Zone in Poland, was responsible for the preparatory phase of the EACN project and coordinated the following activities:
- Defining the major drivers and motivators for industrial modernisation in the automotive industry;
- Preparing a European strategy for automotive SMEs, related to four predefined thematic areas: (1) Virtualization for planning processes, (2) Robotics & Artificial Intelligence in production processes, (3) Elasticity of production processes, (4) Industry 4.0 skills and competencies;
- Elaborating a support service based on best practices.
2. Regarding the identification of drivers and motivators for industrial modernisation. How was this analysis carried out? And what was the objective of this report?
During the first five months of the project, we gathered strategic information from available market studies, trend analyses, policy papers, sector forecasts and expert opinions. The main objective was to identify factors impacting the evolution of automotive global value chains and business models.
The report ‘Drivers and motivators for industrial modernisation in the automotive industry’ was also useful in providing answers to the following questions:
- Why are the four EACN thematic areas important for automotive SMEs?
- What are the conditions, challenges and success factors for automotive SMEs when implementing actions related to the mentioned topics?
- Who are the main actors in the change processes?
3. So, what were the results arisen from this report? Can you outline some of the main conclusions?
Within the next 10 years, the automotive industry is expected to undergo severe changes, driven mainly by:
- A decrease on the vehicles demand in Europe;
- The pressure on margins at all levels of the value chain;
- Increased added value by way of improving customers’ experiences;
- Introduction of intelligent components and systems for electric and autonomous vehicles;
- Low-emission, zero-emission and eco-friendly lightweight vehicles trends;
- Lack of skilled employees.
In this context, the report gives automotive SMEs the following recommendations:
- Look for opportunities to cooperate (with other suppliers to carry out larger orders, or with clients especially within R&D projects);
- Apply virtual planning methods (to identify opportunities for cost reduction or flexibility improvement as well as analyse the feasibility of new projects);
- Be open to changes in materials or invest in production technologies for multi-material smart components;
- Focus on cost optimization and cost-efficient production systems;
- Be prepared for quality and security requirements at all levels of the organization;
- Implement automated processes and robots;
- Increase the use of information management systems and smart data gathering and processing on machine level.
All this information has been a key starting point to define the framework of the EACN Strategy and the actions which will pave the way for promoting and supporting industrial modernization processes in automotive SMEs.
4. Since you mentioned it, the development of a strategy was another important task within the project, wasn’t it?
Definitely. Although learning processes at regional level are of major importance for the companies’ competitiveness improvement, there are issues related to industrial modernisation that demand an interregional approach. In this sense, the design of a common “European” strategic vision and objectives was essential.
Our strategy was built on the competencies and potential of the clusters’ members. It focuses on synergies and points out opportunities for joint projects. The document is provided along with four deliverables:
- The EACN Partnership Agreement;
- A map of envisaged cluster collaboration opportunities and value chain linkages;
- An implementation roadmap, with the activities to be carried out;
- A marketing plan, to support joint communication activities.
5. Apart from the strategy, the involvement of SMEs in the project is another key element to be successful. How do you guarantee a support service of quality?
A good way to ensure the quality was writing a technical documentation describing the process of delivering the support service. This document was prepared by SA&AM, with the contribution of other project partners, whose input was presented during the online workshop session. By common elaboration, discussion, best-practice and experience sharing, we wanted to make sure that all the partners will incorporate the service in their cluster activities.
Moreover, the document includes templates and specific support tools which will help SMEs to better define their needs and propose ideas for common projects, thus creating solid foundations for the involvement of SMEs in the project.
6. Finally, what benefits can the EACN project provide to your cluster members?
The SA&AM cluster has relatively few SMEs among its members as compared to other EACN project partners. Therefore, from its initiation, this European project has been considered a great opportunity to engage our automotive SMEs in interregional learning and cooperation.
So far substantial involvement of Polish SMEs in the project shows that they see the benefits of the EACN project. Some SMEs appreciate the possibility of sharing and mutualising the financial risk of new solutions and tools; for others, it is an opportunity to generate new knowledge by common R&D projects. Additionally, SMEs emphasize the advantage of gaining institutional support from the EACN partnership, fostering their manufacturing processes with the integration of digital technologies.