Industry 4.0: Championing Europe’s fourth industrial revolution

Written by Adina-Ioana Valean, Vice-President of the European Parliament

Adina-Ioana Valean, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Romanian MEP member of the Committee for Industry, Research and Energy (European Parliament)

Adina-Ioana Valean, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Romanian MEP with EPP, member of the Committee for Industry, Research and Energy (European Parliament)

Historically, the European continent has been at the forefront of all major revolutions that have radically reshaped and refocused the advanced global economies. From the financial-agricultural revolution of the 18th and early 19th centuries and throughout the continuous industrial and technical progress of the last 200 years, Europe has been the birthplace of technical innovation, efficiency and productivity.

The digital revolution has, however, caught the Old continent off-guard. Most of the digital products and services we are using today are being bred in high-tech laboratories in either the United States or Asia. There are hardly any European names among the big global tech brands in online platforms, social media services or smart devices. We didn’t make it happen – on the contrary, the digital revolution has happened to us.

Moreover, the implicit rapid growth of the data economy is set to further surge, driven by the development of advanced cloud computing facilities, big data applications, as well as the Internet of Things (or IoT). Taking into account that it won’t only be your smartphone or your laptop that will have the capacity to connect to the web, each other and the cloud, but that a whole other set of tools are being developed to link your home, vehicle and workspace to your mobile devices, we are witnessing a series of massive changes triggered by the internet.

It is in this context that Europe stands the biggest chance of retaking the reins in driving innovation and productivity through its industrial sectors. The Internet of Things has the ability to increase the agility of the production process, with intelligent factories, machines and products communicating with each other and cooperatively driving production. Considering that industrial manufacturing stands for more than 15% of European Union’s GDP, is the main source of export, as well as a major driving force for employment, it goes without saying that the sheer benefits of embracing the digital tools are significant.

We have seen the power of disruptive business models to change the way the market works, consumers behave and companies produce and sell. Europe has the resources and ability to take that to the next level. Imagine that a majority of machines operating in a factory will have the ability to predict autonomously failures in the production system. Then picture maintenance or reparations triggered automatically, faster and more reliably than human judgement. And then how about packaging services that are able to predict and react to possible changes in the production process? Add to that the increasing number of related tools, such as big data, and sooner rather than later traditional industrial sectors will have the ability to not only upsurge productivity and quality of outputs, but also to predict and make use of competitive advantages in one sector or another. Championing ‘smart manufacturing‘ could then be the key element not only for growth and high-tech jobs, but also for Europe’s competitiveness on the global stage.

Of course nothing of such magnitude comes without its challenges. Disparities in digitisation among various industrial sectors and also among Member States, education systems still unable to equip our youth with the necessary digital skills, or the lack of appetite or knowledge among SMEs in adopting advanced digital tools, all these are real obstacles that should be duly taken into account and tackled.

It is up to us to create the right legal framework and to eliminate unnecessary red tape for the European industry to have the room and power to digitise, innovate and compete fairly on the global markets. Encouraging traditional industrial sectors to create intelligent networks along the value chain may mean that the next global tech champions will come from Europe.

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