Once one of the world’s leading steel producers, Luxembourg has a solid industrial past. Industry continues to play a key role in the economic fabric, today with a strong focus on high value added, R&D-intensive activities. Adopting an industry 4.0 approach – i.e. intelligent networking of machines and processes based on information and communication technologies – is central for the future.
“This is the only way to maintain our competitiveness,” says Georges Santer, Head of Digital and Innovation at employers’ association FEDIL – The Voice of Luxembourg’s Industry that brings together the country’s main industrial players. “Technologies such as the internet of things, virtual simulation, artificial intelligence, big data, high performance computing, smart grids and so on are transforming our current industrial model.”
Luxembourg: a strategic industrial location
A number of international industrial players are using their Luxembourg production facilities to trail-blaze their move to industry 4.0. “Husky Injection Molding Systems has used its production site here to develop and implement an end-to-end digitalised production process, Goodyear has invested $77 million in a highly automated tyre manufacturing plant, and other large firms such as Cebi, Sisto Armaturen, ArcelorMittal and Ceratizit are running ambitious digitalisation projects,” exemplifies Caroline Muller, Luxembourg Materials & Manufacturing Cluster manager at Luxinnovation.
Many of these large groups have R&D and innovation centres in Luxembourg, and it is natural for them to conduct digital innovation here.
The reasons for this? “I think this reflects the strengths of a country that has always been visionary and willing to test new things,” says Arnaud Lambert, who heads the Luxembourg Digital Innovation Hub (L-DIH) at Luxinnovation, which supports industrial companies in their digital transformation. “Many of these large groups have R&D and innovation centres in Luxembourg, and it is natural for them to conduct digital innovation here. Luxembourg is also often seen as a neutral location. International groups see it as a good place to conduct pilot projects that will then be taken up by production sites in different countries across the world.”
Business-oriented high performance computer
Supporting the digitalisation of industry and creating a resilient industry 4.0 sector is high up on the agenda of Luxembourg’s data-driven innovation strategy, and a natural continuation of the investment in digital infrastructure that the country has been doing for decades. “The technological infrastructure available here in terms of connectivity and access is definitely not a given everywhere,” Mr Lambert points out.
This is really HPC for everyone, with experts available to guide those less accustomed to working with supercomputers.
Luxembourg’s business-oriented high performance computer (HPC), MeluXina, has specifically been designed to meet business needs and makes 65% of its capacity available to companies – start-ups and SMEs as well as large industries. “Industry 4.0 generates enormous amounts of data, not only from within companies themselves but also from their value chains as different parts are becoming connected. Processing them requires considerable data power,” says Mr Lambert. “MeluXina is the first HPC in Europe that you can have access to without going through a research project implemented together with a university. This is really HPC for everyone, with experts available to guide those less accustomed to working with supercomputers.”
Partnerships proximity for digital transformation
Most companies do not have all necessary skills in-house to succeed with their digital transformation. A number of projects are being implemented in partnership with the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) or the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST). The L-DIH also connects companies with service providers that can contribute with skills, technology, project management, consulting and so on.
“We have a well developed national ecosystem where public, private and academic players are close – not only geographically but also in terms of mindset,” comments Mr Lambert. “The large industrial players have attracted a range of specialised service providers in the digital field, and we also benefit from the expertise gained through Luxembourg’s financial sector. In case we do not find the right fit nationally, our colleagues in our neighbouring countries – which have dense industrial landscapes – or further away in Europe, help us to identify suitable partners in their countries.”
Intelligent, digital production processes offer great opportunities, especially to SMEs.
Luxembourg-based companies can also apply for government R&D and innovation subsidies and benefit from Luxinnovation support to prepare their projects. “Such support considerably facilitates the launch of digitalisation projects, in particular among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up the biggest part of our industrial sector,” says Ms Muller.
Encouraging smaller companies to embrace the digital transformation is a priority. “Industry 4.0 does not only change value creation processes, but also gives birth to new business models and new perspectives for employees,” comments Mr Santer. “Intelligent, digital production processes offer great opportunities, especially to SMEs.”
Human at the centre
While digitalisation helps companies become more agile, efficient and cost-effective, there are also other long-term advantages, notably for the environment. “Sustainable manufacturing is an important pillar of industry 4.0,” Ms Muller points out. “Digitally enabled production processes often makes it possible to consume less energy and materials and to lessen the CO2 footprint.”
Sustainable manufacturing is an important pillar of industry 4.0.
The sustainability aspect is central for Luxembourg. Mr Lambert thinks its industry of the future will be really innovative and state-of-the-art. “We will continue to have physical, cutting edge industrial production here, but I think that the digital aspects of industry will become increasingly important. With the tools that we invest in – the new HPC and a future secure data exchange platform, for example – Luxembourg can play a key role in this field.”
However, the main key to success is the people involved in the process. “Digital transformation impacts all aspects of an organisation,” underlines Mr Lambert. “The company culture, the internal understanding of why and how this transformation takes place and the willingness to change are essential. The digital and human interaction has to be strong and complementary. The close personal relationships in our business and research community will be a key asset in the years to come.”
Photo: © Luxinnovation/Laurent Antonelli