To develop an effective plan for Industry 4.0 State support for companies in investment is not enough. It is necessary for the social fabric and the best research organisations to be involved. In this situation the first digital innovation hubs are starting also in Italy and in a few months we will also be able to count on some competence centres.
These are research centres that will have three main functions: guidance, training and study and implementation of projects for companies. The first function, guidance for businesses, in particular small and medium concerns, takes place – as stated in the Official Gazette – "through the provision of a range of instruments to support companies in assessing their level of maturity and digital technology". The second area of activity is the "training for companies, in order to promote and disseminate the competences in Industry 4.0 through training in the classroom and on the production line and on real-world applications, using, for example, demonstration production lines and development of use cases for the purpose of aiding comprehension by enterprises that enjoy concrete benefits in terms of lower operating costs and increase in the competitiveness of the offer". Lastly, the third function is the “implementation of innovation projects, industrial research and experimental development, proposed by companies, including those of inter-company cooperation and the provision of technology transfer services in the area of Industry 4.0, and also by taking steps to stimulate the demand for innovation on the part of businesses, especially those of small and medium size".
We will start at the beginning: The Ministry of Economic Development issued an announcement for a value of 40 million euros last January for an indefinite number of competence centre projects, with a deadline on 30 April for submitting proposals. We are talking about universities, associations and bodies who can submit a request for funds. At the moment the interest of the Polytechnics of Milan, Turin and Bari, is certain but Federico II University of Naples and Sant'Anna School in Pisa may also start competence centre projects.
What will the competence centres do? As already mentioned, the first aim will be to provide guidance, particularly to SMEs, with tools to assess and improve their own "digital state". Then there is the aspect of training, with the possibility of disseminating – both in the classroom and in the company – the skills of Industry 4.0, attempting to highlight the impact on operating costs for the company and on increasing the competitiveness of the offer. Competence centres will then be able to develop industrial innovation projects side by side with businesses and provide their technology transfer services.
These centres are in fact research centres which will have three main functions: guidance, training and study and implementation of projects for companies.
The funds made available by the Ministry of Economic Development will help to start projects, but it is already clear that public resources will cover only a minimal part of the costs to complete the work and to provide all the services of the competence centres. More specifically, 65% of the 40 million (therefore 26 million euros) from the Ministry of Economic Development will serve to cover the costs of setting up the centres, up to a maximum of 7 million 500 thousand euros each. The remaining 35% will serve instead to finance technological research projects, up to a maximum of 200,000 euros per project.
This means that, although not placing limits on the number of winning projects, it would be quite impractical to select more than four or five institutes. Once the choice is made, the competence centres will start with the objective of strengthening the relationship between the worlds of business and research.