07 Jul Supporting creative approaches
Hannes Hunschofsky, Managing Director of EIT Manufacturing CLC East, aims to capitalize on Vienna’s attractiveness to advance the European manufacturing industry.
How would you assess the strengths of Austria and the greater region’s manufacturing capabilities? Why has the region become such a powerhouse in this area and how has public sector support played a role in this?
When we look at it from a global perspective, Austria is a quite small country and industrial location, but it has a great history of ingenious developments in manufacturing. In Austria, you can find a number of relatively small companies delivering high technology to customers all over the world, mostly in the B2B market. These established “hidden champions” are very successful and often have a high market share on an international level.
Vienna is also special in another way. For a very long time, it has been a bridge between Eastern and Western countries in Europe. The Co-Location Center (CLC) East, the Viennese branch of EIT Manufacturing, is therefore very well positioned to work with stakeholders in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The team in Vienna is responsible for the East region of EIT Manufacturing, covering 12 countries in CEE, from the Czech Republic down to Cyprus and from Austria all the way to the Black Sea. Operating in 12 countries also means that we are working with 12 different languages and 12 different cultures on a daily basis. Vienna is an exceptional location to enable this pan-European collaboration between Eastern and Western Europe.
The city of Vienna is very innovative, driving its own destiny in the international industrial landscape by developing a strategy called “Vienna 2030 Economy & Innovation”. One of its six major strategic directions is “Smart Production in the Big City”. Vienna has a long-standing history as a manufacturing location. Actually, in Vienna, there are more than 8,500 companies that engage in manufacturing or related services. EIT Manufacturing established its Co-Location Centers in the most industrious region of Europe. Vienna’s strength as an industrial location, its historical bridge function in the heart of Europe and the great support we receive here from the national and regional governments were essential in the decision to create an EIT Manufacturing location here in Austria.
What are the milestones of EIT Manufacturing, and how does EIT Manufacturing East collaborate with other regions under the EIT Manufacturing umbrella?
EIT Manufacturing is an association privately funded by more than 70 members. Since 2018, we have also received funding from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology to increase innovation in the European manufacturing domain and 2020 was our first year of operation. We are structured around what we would call a knowledge triangle, bringing together Education, Innovation and Business Creation to have the highest possible impact on improving Europe’s innovation capacity. Our headquarters are located in Paris and we currently have five CLCs covering Europe. We work very closely with the other CLCs to foster innovation and interconnection across Europe and establish new innovation ecosystems.
How has Europe’s manufacturing sector risen to meet challenges caused by lowered consumption of many goods, changes in how things are purchased, and stresses on the supply of raw materials? What has EIT Manufacturing’s role been in supporting the redevelopment of regional economies?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have observed three major trends in the manufacturing industry. First, companies are thinking about bringing their supply chains closer to home, which is also known as “near-shoring” or “re-shoring”. Many of those industries recognize the opportunities to set up their supply chains in CEE countries.
The second trend is increased digitalization. The pandemic, combined with technological advances, paved the way for digitalization to a large extent. We are supporting and promoting this development with various offers, recognizing that digitalization is a very important step for all the manufacturing companies that aim to improve sustainability and competitiveness.
The third trend is an increased focus on the circular economy – a topic that our members deem extremely important. Decreasing its CO2 footprint, reducing waste and reusing materials are three goals of the manufacturing industry, and they played major role in our 2023 Call for Proposals. As such, EIT Manufacturing is supporting a number of innovation and education projects in order to favor a more circular economy.
What kind of impact has the rise in sustainable investments had on the manufacturing sector, and what role is EIT Manufacturing playing in lowering the industry’s carbon footprint and creating more circular economies?
What the manufacturing industry needs when it comes to lowering CO2 emissions are creative and innovative approaches. Many of the innovators we work with come to us in the form of startups or scaleups with the aim to bring their smaller, more regional structure to new and bigger markets, often in other European countries. As EIT Manufacturing, we aim to support our members, but also the entire manufacturing community.
Since 2021, we have been running a program together with the Vienna Business Agency called “Discover Vienna: Manufacturing Edition”. This initiative aims to invite startups from the CEE countries to visit Vienna and meet with local industry stakeholders. Among others, we arrange meetings with lawyers to discuss intellectual property-related topics. We also schedule sessions with professionals who have expertise in company creation here in Austria and know-how on funding opportunities. We provide training on business development and we organize events for the participants to network and get acquainted with the Austrian manufacturing and startup ecosystem. Just recently, in May 2022, we closed the second edition of this program and it was a great success: 38 highly innovative startups and scaleups submitted applications to participate in the program. Many of the ideas that come out of these events respond to the topics I mentioned before: reducing our CO2 footprint, finding ways to optimize circular economy as well as new solutions to reduce waste. It is extremely inspiring and encouraging to see people come up with smart, brand-new ideas.
What do you think are the most disruptive technologies sweeping manufacturing and trade, and what kind of future do you see regarding the use of digital technologies in the industry?
Digital technologies can go in so many different directions. Artificial intelligence, which ultimately aims at rooting decision-making into a more data-based process, is at the forefront of the digital technologies. Additionally, there are new technologies to help manufacturers improve their production operations, for example “digital twins”, allowing simulations for faster and more cost-effective improvements.
We are also engaged in a four-year project called EuProGigant, funded by both the Austrian and German governments. EuProGigant stands for “European Production Giganet” and focuses on the development of a European production ecosystem for the smart and sovereign use of data in manufacturing under the Gaia-X framework. This project supports the digitalization efforts of small and medium-sized manufacturers in particular. There are many interesting companies and organizations contributing to EuProGigant, which is executed under the scientific supervision of the Technical Universities in Vienna and Darmstadt. We only started this project in 2021, and it has already become an official Gaia-X lighthouse project.
What kind of research and development (R&D) strengths does Austria have in the manufacturing area, and what is EIT Manufacturing East’s current strategy in connecting research and innovation to the industry?
While there is a lot of research in fields such as biochemistry here in Vienna, EIT Manufacturing concentrates its efforts on the manufacturing aspect only. R&D is not really our focal point. We are supporting innovation which usually means transferring demonstrators, for example from research institutions, into industrial applications. For your expert readers: we start at a Technology Readiness Level of 6 and upwards, which means that a prototype able to operate under laboratory conditions is already existent. This prototype will then be put into an industrial setting and is running under real conditions. If this is successful, we would then scale up that project, often leading to the creation of spin-offs or new startups.
For 2022, we have established four major flagship areas, around which we center our activities: Flexible Production Systems, Low Environmental Footprint Systems & Circular Economy, Digital & Collaborative Solutions and Human-Machine Co-Working. For defining and re-defining those focus areas, we listen very closely to the needs of our members and the whole manufacturing ecosystem. This way, we make sure our innovation projects are supporting the industry in solving their most pressing challenges. Therefore, it is possible that next year, one or more of the focus areas might change or need to be adapted as technological needs evolve.
Do you have any final comments for the readers of Newsweek magazine?
We see manufacturing as a highly innovative and technological sector that has a huge impact on the entire society, which is why we are very dedicated to further advance the European manufacturing industry. The CO2 footprint of the industry is still significant, but the good news is that there are many opportunities to reduce it with the ingenuity of our innovators. Therefore, we are confident that the industry will achieve its environmental targets.