by Giuliana Miglierini
The expert group “Industrial Forum” is a multistakeholder body created by the European Commission to support the implementation of the Industrial Strategy launched in March 2020 and its following update of May 2021. Its members include Member States authorities, NGOs, industrial representations, research institutions and social partners representing different industrial ecosystems.
Its recently published report is the result of the structured dialogue among members on how to accelerate the deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies (AMTs) across the European industry. Among members which participated in the drafting of the document is also EuropaBio on behalf of the biomanufacturing industry.
Europe is leader in advanced manufacturing
Advanced manufacturing is based on the integration and convergence of the most advanced industrial technologies, i.e. automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and digitally connected solutions. New processes, new products as well as new business models based on this new approach are deemed to represent a fundamental competitive factor in the next few years.
Europe is currently well position in the ranking on “future of production” readiness, with 18 out of 25 countries considered by the World Economic Forum to be leading the change in manufacturing. Despite this, according to the report many efforts are still needed to accelerate the implementation of advanced manufacturing technologies in the EU, so not to be superseded by other fast-evolving competitors.
In order to achieve this challenging goal, the Industrial Forum identified seven different areas of attention, each of which is addressed by specific recommendations based on a SWOT analysis.
The seven areas of recommendation
The transition to new manufacturing models should, first of all, meet the EU sustainability goals established by the European Green Deal: the “net-zero industry” plan for renewables and industrial efficiency technologies is confirmed as a priority action, together with the expansion of the use of REPowerEU. The Commission is working on new energy savings directives, which should be timely implemented. Circularity of manufacturing processes and products is another main goal of EU’s industrial policies, to be supported by a set of new fit-for-purpose rules. A more rapid uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies should also be supported by both the availability of specific public procurement guidance and a targeted communication of the environmental benefits of European clean technologies.
The second area of action addresses how to improve access to capital, a key factor in ensuring the timely implementation of advanced manufacturing technologies. This may include a better use of public investment, as well as a cautious application of state aid instruments specifically targeted at later stages in the innovation and deployment process. The potential of these new technologies for sustainability should also be recognised within the upcoming EU Taxonomy de-legated acts.
The resilience of supply chains could be tackled by the rapid implementation of AMTs. In order to achieve this goal, the Industrial Forum highlighted the need for workable and proportionate rules on Due Diligence. No less important is the negotiation and activation of new Free Trade Agreements with third countries (such as the EU-Mercosur FTA). A critical area refers to the improvement of EU semiconductor capacity. According to the report, incentives and funding aimed to increase the supply chain resilience should be exempt from directing specific outcomes. The European institutions should also better support the local and regional industrial supply chains. Secure access to critical raw materials should be pursued by leveraging the trade policy.
The building of an EU Single Market is a main goal of the European Commission, also in the pharmaceutical field. Its freedoms should be safeguarded by narrowing down the scope of the Single Market Emergency Instrument, while promoting mitigation measures for advanced manufacturing. The Industrial Forum also recommends the availability of a single platform to provide companies with all the needed information to expand and/or export. Furthermore, a Single Market test should be included in the impact assessments of national laws to minimise the occurrence of gold-plating phenomena. New standards for AMTs would also be needed, an area which according to the Industrial Forum should conjugate an enhanced flexibility in standardisation requests and timely delivery in standard setting. Digital product standardisation should also be promoted, and adhesion to the New Legislative Framework should be ensured.
Data is a fundamental asset of the new economy. Recommendations in this area include supporting existing initiatives to create a strong European manufacturing data space, as well as ad-dressing the protection of both personal data and intellectual property rights and trade secrets. As artificial intelligence (AI) will assume an increasingly relevant role in future advanced manufacturing processes, the Forum recommends the development of clear, focused criteria on high-risk AI, while avoiding unnecessary regulation of industrial AI.
The availability of data should be pursued through the identification of a method for data collection in the advanced manufacturing category. It would also be important to generate trusted data sets at the European level for advanced manufacturing deployment, global competitive position, and economic / environmental / societal gains.
Many new skills will be needed in the next few years to handle the expansion of AMTs. To this instance, the Industrial Forum highlighted the importance to promote the harmonisation of Vocational Education and Training (VET) practices and qualification systems and to encourage women and girls to study STEM subjects and working in manufacturing. Other recommendations re-fer to the possibility of developing a Pact for Skills partnership and the proposal of a Blueprint Alliance for Advanced Manufacturing. A better entrepreneurial culture in Europe should also be promoted, as well as capitalisation on European creative industries.
Examples of biomanufacturing
Weaknesses to biomanufacturing identified by the Industrial Forum include the fact that it is still an emerging production process compared to chemical manufacturing. The report also mentions existing regulatory barriers, mainly linked to a process rather than product approvals pathway. Furthermore, significant investments in biomanufacturing are primarily located outside Europe. Possible risks identified by the report also refer to biomanufacturing being excluded or overlooked in key policymaking e.g. taxonomy supporting biomanufacture and sustainable financing.
The report includes two examples of AMTs linked to the health and agrifood sector. Chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T) represent one of the main areas of innovation in cancer treatment over the past two decades, in which the patient’s immune cells are engineered to produce the final immunotherapy. Many pharmaceutical companies are building specialised manufacturing facilities for CAR-T therapies within Europe, a biomanufacturing process which is highly complex and patient-specific, and requires long term investments, skills development, and integration into the European Union industrial base.
Biomanufacturing may also be applied to the production of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), that multi-step chemical synthesis is complex, requires hazardous agents and has low yields (~60%). Biotechnologies allow for the one-step production of vitamin B2, starting from vegetables as carbon sources and using a genetically modified bacterium (Bacillus subtilis) or fungus (Ashbya gossypii).