In June 2019, we went south to meet a young and growing Digital Innovation Hub from Norte Region in Portugal: iMan Norte.
iMan Norte Hub is a hub initially funded by the EU project BEinCPPS, which is framed under I4MS Initiative, and launched on 25th of May 2018 with a focus on the main industrial sectors of the region (metalworking and machinery, textile and clothing, footwear, automotive parts, agro-food, forestry and other industrial areas).
Do you want to know how are new DIH generations doing? Ana Barros (AB) gave us a few answers that may give you a clue.
Tell us a bit about iMan Norte Hub
AB: The mission of the iMan Norte Hub – Digital Innovation Hub for Customer-Driven Manufacturing @ Norte – is to foster the digital transformation of manufacturing companies of the Northern Region of Portugal (Norte) and to nurture the respective innovation ecosystem.
Our main objectives are to facilitate and foster manufacturing technology adoption and diffusion in the areas of cyber-physical production systems (CPPS) and robotics, and to improve the collaboration in the ecosystem by linking research institutions, industrial technological centers, industrial associations, incubators, science and technology parks, industrial companies, technology companies, training institutions, and government agencies.
Can you give us some figures in the impact of the support you have provided?
AB: The iMan Norte Hub is hosted by the Portuguese Production Technologies Cluster (PRODUTECH), a national non-profit association of manufacturing technology providers, and is coordinated by a managing team with members from seven organizations:
- PRODUTECH: Production Technologies Cluster (36 production equipment producers, 22 information technology companies, 18 end user companies, 22 research institutions, 7 technological centers, 66% of associates in the Norte region)
- INESC TEC: Institute for Systems and Computer Engineering, Technology and Science (has been developing R&D and consulting projects with manufacturing companies in the region for 30 years)
- UPTEC: Science and Technology Park of University of Porto (100 technology start¬ups)
- CATIM: Technological Center for the Metal Working and Machinery Industry (700 associates)
- CITEVE: Technological Center of Textile and Clothing Industries of Portugal (630 associates)
- CTCP : Technological Center of Footwear of Portugal (460 associates)
- CTCOR: Technological Center of Cork (200 associates)
*90% of the associates of these seven institutions are SMEs. At the moment, further 11 competence centers are joining the iMan Norte Hub. All these competence centers are working towards improving the adoption of digitalization technologies in SMEs. Therefore, it is very difficult for the iMan Norte Hub to measure the number of SMEs helped.
How do you help companies?
AB: The iMan Norte Hub organizes dissemination and matchmaking activities (workshops, seminars, and demonstrations), offers coaching and connection to funding sources, and promotes the services offered by its network of competence centers, which include: research and development, pilot implementations, feasibility studies, technology roadmaps, advanced training, access to experimental facilities, and support of the development of new businesses.
What EU funds did your DIH receive and how did you employ them? Were they important for setting-up or improving your DIH?
AB: iMan Norte Hub was created with funds of the European project BEinCPPS, under I4MS Initiative. These funds were very important to build the first experiments and pilot implementations and to finance the iMan Norte Hub launching activities, such as website and launching ceremony.
Can you provide a practical example of an EU-funded experiment or of a case where you helped a company to develop a particular digital innovation/solution?
AB: This CPS-based logistics system for flexible production was adopted by a large manufacturer in the Portuguese footwear industry and comprises two major systems: a Stitching Logistic System (supporting the activities of pre-stitching, stitching and pre-assembly, implemented via robotic manipulators) and an Assembly Logistic System (supporting the final assembly and finishing activities).
These logistic systems were automated by PLC devices connected to sensors/actuators distributed on the shop floor and managed at a higher level by a manufacturing execution system.
BEinCPPS project aimed to integrate and experiment a Fl-based machine-factory—cloud service platform ﬁrstly intensively in ﬁve selected S3 Vanguard regions, afterwards extensively in all European regions, bv involving local competence centers and manufacturing SMEs.
Interview by Almudena S. Escrich, DIHNET