Europe has high ambitions about e.g. strengthening its economic competitiveness as well as ensuring a transition to both green and digital industry. In this context, state-of-the-art technology infrastructures such as the Center for Industrial 3D Printing play an important role, and therefore a joint European strategy for these technology infrastructures is needed. That is the conclusion of a recently published article by EARTO - European Association of Research and Technology Organizations.
Europe's ability to meet its ambitious goals in areas such as economics, technology, construction and sustainability depends to a large extent on research, development and innovation - and on the industry being able to acquire new technologies and translate them into new products and services. In order for this to be possible, there is a need for a stronger collaboration between companies and the various research and development actors, including in particular RTOs such as the Danish Technological Institute. Furthermore, companies need to be guaranteed easy access to state-of-the-art technology infrastructures. This is the conclusion from EARTO in the recently published article ‘Setting-up a European Strategy for Technology Infrastructures’
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Technological support for companies
Technology infrastructures - or just TIs - can be e.g. demonstrators, test facilities, pilot facilities or living laboratories, and they form the very backbone of dynamic research and development (R&D) ecosystems as well as innovation-driven value chains.
The TIs promote collaboration between private companies and public R&D organizations, and these collaborations are crucial for the development of new technology and new solutions. The industry, for instance, needs to be able to access the TIs for validation, prototyping and upscaling before they can enter the market with new solutions. BUT: It takes a lot of resources and skills to build, operate and maintain TIs, so very few companies can afford to have their own.
That is why the RTOs in Europe support industrial development by establishing and operating large scale TIs - and by offering open access to these for both small and large companies.
Example: Companies get access to 3D printing at the Danish Technological Institute
A great example of such a TI is the Center for Industrial 3D Printing in Aarhus, which is the culmination of the Danish Technological Institute's more than 30 years of efforts to develop the technology's industrial potential - a development that has taken place through a number of European projects under FP7 and H2020, and that happened in close collaboration with private companies and other R&D institutions.
The center gathers all processes around 3D printing production, and with a large investment from the Danish Technological Institute, it was upgraded in 2019, so that today it covers more than 1,400 m2. As a demonstration and knowledge center, the focus is on demonstrating and developing the industrial potential of 3D printing in production in Denmark, and as the only place in the country, it has four metal printers. Danish companies can thus have items printed in metal and at the same time have access to test a full production line for the development and 3D printing of components and parts that can later be implemented directly in their own production. The centre is also the focal point of AM-LINE 4.0, which is a project supported by the Innovation Fund Denmark together with a number of leading Danish companies and universities from Denmark and abroad. With a total budget of DKK 88 million, AM-LINE 4.0 is the largest investment in industrial 3D printing in Denmark ever, and the goal is to ensure that Danish industrial companies have the necessary knowledge and capacity to be able to utilize the great potential of 3D printing production.
In addition to the Center for Industrial 3D Printing, the Danish Technological Institute also operates other TIs, and the EARTO article highlights the purchase of an ion accelerator for the development of new surface coatings and GreenLabs DK, which is a program that supports the establishment of large plants for testing and demonstration of new climate and energy technologies.
Concrete recommendations for a European strategy
In the article, EARTO points out that the EU and the Member States must be more ambitious and develop a common European strategy for TIs, together with relevant stakeholders, including the RTOs. In this context, EARTO makes the following recommendations, which should contribute to the development and implementation of this common strategy:
- Prioritise technology infrastructures in new EU and national policies, and make the key role they have in EU RD&I ecosystems more visible at EU level
- Ensure the creation and long-term sustainability of the necessary technology infrastructures at EU level.
- Support pan-European access to technology infrastructures by companies of all sizes to leverage their innovation capabilities.
The article and the recommendations from EARTO have been published because the forthcoming EU budgets are due to be laid. In this context, it is important to highlight the importance of technology infrastructures - both for companies and for the fulfillment of European ambitions.
EARTO was founded in 1999 and promotes RTOs and their interests in Europe. The EARTO network counts more than 350 RTOs in over 20 countries, and its members consist of 150,000 highly educated scientists and engineers who manage a wide range of innovation infrastructures.