Following the 2008 crisis, Portugal's traditional manufacturing sectors (notably the metalworking, textile, shoes, wood and furniture industries) had to face common key challenges: ensuring the swift development and uptake of new industrial technologies, involving the strategic management of industries' transformative change, and the spread of the benefits throughout the value chains.
PRODUTECH, a production technologies cluster, has played a key role to strengthen collaborations among key actors in various industries and promote joint projects and activities covering the whole innovation cycle. Constituted of three kinds of stakeholders - a) Production technology & service producers, mostly SMEs; b) Higher education, Research organisations and technology centres; c) Leading companies from the most relevant manufacturing sectors (end-users) - the cluster has promoted a new way to cooperate among its more than 110 member organisations. In line with the S3 approach, the cluster has enabled members to identify the Key Enabling Technologies and skills needed and established the corresponding road map and an action plan.
Demonstrators and Pilot lines were important elements used by the cluster to assist SMEs in integrating R&D projects results and new technologies, in partnership with research organisations, hence providing an adequate response to customers' needs. This cooperative approach has benefited all clusters' participants. Thanks to the cluster's leading role, members were able to create a critical mass, define robust collaborative research & development projects and get a better grasp of the sectoral needs. Besides, cluster's members have invested in new technologies using a combination of funds (ESIF, national, regional and H2020) and gained access to new technologies thanks to applied research initiatives; they were also able to capitalise on existing technologies that could be transferred from one sector to another, promoting cross-fertilization and further uptake of existing technologies.
During the period 2011-2014, PRODUTECH promoted two large scale, collaborative R&D and demonstration projects: (1) PRODUTECH PSI - New Products and Services for the Manufacturing Industry and (2) PRODUTECH PTI - New Processes and Innovative Technologies for the Production Technologies Industry. They gathered 42 partners, in the research, development and demonstration of advanced technologies, solutions and applications, totalling an investment of 12,5 M€, supported with 8,8 M€ of public funding. They generated (i) 50 new technologies, solutions or applications; (ii) around 60 articles in technical magazines, scientific journals and papers (including PhD and MSc thesis and dissertations); (iii) 45 dissemination actions; (iv) over 10 new complementary projects and/or project applications (both national and international); and (v) more than 40 prototypes, demonstrators and/or pilot installations, including 5 pilot installations in real industrial environment.
A direct spill-over of these mobilizing projects was the MAPPLE project (2016-2018), aimed at developing and demonstrating an innovative production planning solution integrating energy optimization requirements. It leveraged solutions originally deployed in the metalworking sector and fostered its further development and implementation in the plastics films industry, being in line with the priorities set-up in the S3 of Portugal’s Norte region.
Another example of spill-overs and cross fertilization is the case of the SPIRE project MAESTRI. Based on the results achieved under the sustainability strand of PRODUTECH mobilizing projects, originally addressing the context of discrete manufacturing, MAESTRI aimed at the development of a total resource and energy efficiency management system for process industries.
These integrated mobilizing PRODUTECH projects are a key instrument within the R&D and Innovation axis of the cluster, as they gather the critical masses of capacities, competencies and stakeholders towards the deployment of cross sectorial industrial breakthroughs. During the same period (2011-2014), 67 additional projects were launched in line with the priorities of the cluster, leveraging 40 M€ of investments. Currently, under the pipeline of projects of the R&D and Innovation and Demonstration axis of the cluster, a new mobilizing programme is being executed - PRODUTECH SIF – Solutions for the Industry of the Future – together with several other complementary projects, directly promoted by the stakeholders, all of them fully aligned with the European research and innovation agendas and with the national and regional Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3).
Some key success factors can be outlined:
- The mobilization of the cluster's members under the same strategy and the ability to agree on priority areas
- The coordinated role of the cluster
- The articulation between national and regional public authorities to develop a sound funding mechanism and a robust support framework, particularly the set of instruments managed by the National Innovation Agency (ANI)
- The development of interregional collaborations within the EU framework (namely, the VANGUARD Initiative) and participation in R&D projects and initiatives at EU level.
The Smart Specialisation approach has also helped to address the cluster's needs through the thematic partnerships. Through the S3 Partnerships the cluster widens its access to businesses and RDI partners and funding sources, it gains international expertise and visibility, and gets targeted support. The Norte Region, where around 40% of Portuguese manufacturing companies is based, is active in 6
S3 thematic partnerships including Innovative textile, New nano-enabled products, High performance production through 3D printing (where it plays a leading role), Advanced manufacturing for energy applications, Efficient, sustainable manufacture, as well as Marine renewable energy.