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The digitalization of production and management processes can significantly help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in coping with crisis periods, as well as prepare them for post-crisis transitions. A consortium of institutions involved in the EIT Manufacturing “RIS Industry 4.0 Hubs” project has led an initiative in the form of specialized digitalization seminars and targeted grant support for European SMEs, to support them in digitizing their manufacturing and supply chains.  The Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (STUBA) participated in the project in Slovakia with the aim to help the development of local ecosystems. In six countries, more than a hundred companies took part in individualized seminars and 14 companies received direct support and consultations.

Within the EIT Manufacturing “RIS Industry 4.0 Hubs” (RIS I40H) project, STUBA together with six more European partners implemented the so-called Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS) to boost innovation capacity and transfer of good practices in European countries that are considered “modest and moderate” innovators. SMEs are encouraged to take advantage of digitalised technologies and improve their digital skills and competencies. For this purpose, the project team organised series of digitalization seminars namely in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Greece. The project also provided support to the industrial beneficiaries via an open call, in which companies could apply for mini-grants and get either digital consultations or digitalization plans.

“Within the 12-month RIS I40H project, coordinated by BIBA at Bremen University in Germany, our team conducted a 3-step methodology that helps SMEs on their way to implementing Industry 4.0 solutions based on digital technologies,” said Dr. Štefan Hičák, Project manager at STUBA. In the first step, interactive seminars were organised with a proven structure and content that provided introduction of Industry 4.0 technologies to SMEs and served for scanning digital competences of SMEs. Seven seminars in six countries were held and attended by more than 100 participants. In the second step, individual consultations and in-depth evaluations of the digital maturity of companies’ operations were provided to navigate enterprises in priority areas for digitalization. The third step consisted of the creation of a concrete roadmap for individual companies, to guide the implementation of particular digitalization plan.

“In challenging times like nowadays, industrial companies tend to postpone the above-mentioned activities although they feel these are essential to digitalize their operations,” added Dr. Hičák. “Therefore, as a result of an open call financed by the EIT Manufacturing, we supported 14 SMEs with mini-grants,” explained Dr. Hičák.

In Slovakia, the activities focused on wide range of Industry 4.0 topics, including big data as the enabler of enhanced decision making, process optimization, and framework for its storing, processing and analysing in manufacturing.