Industry 4.0 as a Growth Driver

2018 was the year of the passage to Industry 4.0, while 2019 has seen a deceleration in growth. Several measures are however foreseen as from 2020 to encourage companies, especially SMEs, to proceed with digital transformation

by Renato Uggeri

In order to increase the competitiveness of our economy, even the new “yellow and red” government seems to intend using the fourth industrial revolution and increase action taken to support SMEs, encouraging the increase of private investments in start-ups and innovative SMEs.
For instance, as from October 1st, the new SPIN (Scaleup Program Invitalia Network) has begun; this program is supported by the Ministry for economic development and managed by Invitalia in partnership with Elite, London Stock Exchange Group. For the first time University spin-offs, SMEs and innovative start-ups from southern Italy will be able to access services offered by Elite using an online platform.

The Industry 4.0 plan in Italy among confirmations and downsizing
In 2019 the Conte Government has partly confirmed and partly downsized the Industry 4.0 plan launched in 2016. It represented an occasion for companies to seize the opportunities linked to the fourth industrial revolution by envisaging such now well known measures as Hyper and Super Amortization, the New Sabatini law, tax credits on R&D, the Patent Box, a series of measures for start-ups and innovative SMEs and a Guarantee Fund for companies and professional finding it difficult to access credit. In September 2017 Minister Calenda presented the second phase of the nationwide Plan which changed its name. not just Industry 4.0, but Enterprise 4.0, as a sign that services were also being considered.
The Calenda plan envisaged two new entities: the Digital Innovation Hubs, centers which should be founded on the territory, with the support of Confindustria and of R.ETE. Imprese Italia, to help Italian SMEs in their change towards Industry 4.0; and Competence Centers, which refer to some Italian Universities with the aim of intensifying the relationship between research and industry. As regards the Industry 4.0 plan, in Italy 2018 was therefore the year of the transition to Enterprise 4.0 and its remodelling.

In 2019 growth slows down: workers should become involved
In the first term of 2019 the growth of Industry 4.0 slowed down and the market shrank by 10-15% with respect to 2018, as results from the research of the Industry 4.0 Observatory of Milan’s Polytechnic’s School of Management. According to this report, the market in 2018 settled down on a value of 3.2 billion euro, recording a 35% growth compared to 2017.
Unfortunately in 2019 there was a downturn. According to analysts, in order to grow, the Italian market must get the Human Resources departments and workers involved in the design and development of solutions. Only in 7.8% of companies were workers actively involved in all phases of the projects, and in over one case every four they were not even informed of the presence of a 4.0 strategy, while in only 6.8% of companies the HR function took part in these initiatives.
The “EY Digital Manufacturing Maturity Index 2019” survey, presented last July, shows that in Italy only 14% of companies considered reached a more advanced state of digital development, characterized by evolved 4.0 projects, with information systems capable of exchanging data between the machines and the ERP (or cloud) and with a good grade of integration of information along the entire production process.

The gap between large and small companies remains wide
49% of companies, however, are laying down the foundations for a digital management of processes, while about one third only implemented pilot projects for vertical integration within the company. Only a small part (5%) have a structured and automated system for data integration with suppliers and/or clients. The gap between small and large companies is pronounced, especially regarding some specific themes, such as, the use of innovative technologies. The best part of large companies (70%) has a well-defined development plan and introduced innovative and Industry 4.0 technologies, also exploiting the tax benefits they include. The small and medium concerns, on the other hand, met obstacles along the pathway towards the adoption of digital technologies and the access to benefits and seem to be weak in terms of corporate culture, change governance and development strategy.

Incentives for a green Industry 4.0
In 2020 measures are envisaged for the transition of the production system towards a circular economy. The budgetary manoeuvre will contain a package of incentives and tax benefits to encourage the growth of a green economy, activating a virtuous circle between innovation and environment. Starting from October, companies may start to apply for incentives in favour of sizeable R&D projects, for which 519 million euro have been budgeted. Besides, as from October 15th companies having the foreseen requisites may apply for support to industrial research and experimental development. These projects fall within the scope of the National Strategic Plan and of the Innovation Agreements for Space Economy.

Innovation Managers are key players in the companies of the future
Finally, as from November 7th, companies and corporate networks may apply for a Voucher for an Innovation manager. This measure aims to support the projects of technological and digital transformation in SMEs and corporate networks. Today, thanks to open innovation, companies open up to ideas which come from outside: Innovation Managers serve the purpose of managing this process.
They may increase culture regarding Industry 4.0 themes and will be the subject of evaluation by certifying bodies. Besides, companies introducing this role will obtain significant refunds on the amounts invested. These managers will have to show cross-sector competence, flexibility, creativity, without ever losing sight of the context where they operate.
They must also have technical and technological knowledge, possibly in the specific industrial sector, marketing competence and business management capabilities aimed at understanding how to change the organization processes of the corporate universe.