"It is necessary to take manufacturing processes to a larger number of companies and sectors"
TecnoMetal interviews José Carlos Caldeira, Secretary-General of the Forum Manufuture Portugal
Which are the main goals underlying the activities developed by the Forum Manufuture Portugal?
The Forum is an open civic association that aims at promoting the study of the main problems and challenges within the Manufacturing Industry in Portugal and in Europe, in the context of the work carried out by the MANUFUTURE Technology Platform.
The most important aim of the activities developed by the Forum is to produce solid and sustained contributions for the ongoing manufacturing process, always supporting dynamic medium and long-term policies and actions that will define a vision, a strategy and an action plan for the sustained development of the Portuguese and European industries, following the Lisbon Strategy and the Barcelona Summit.
Most observers acknowledge that there is a lack of articulation between the industry and the university and that this is still a weak point for the Portuguese society. What do you think can be done to immediately reverse this situation?
First and foremost, it is necessary to highlight the significant evolution that has occurred, mainly over the last ten years, in the relationship between the industry and the university (perceived in this case as a whole within the national scientific system). Today, the number of consortium R&D projects, technology transfer contracts and training and consulting activities developed between companies and universities is, in fact, a lot higher. Moreover, these relationships are starting to become medium and long-term partnerships, which is proof of the sustainability and growing maturity of the organizations on both sides.
However, there is still a long path ahead, not only in terms of making those relationships broader (more companies and more institutions within the scientific system), but also deeper (medium and long-term partnerships and projects). In that process, the most important and dynamic companies, as well as the most competent and capable scientific institutions have to assume their responsibilities, promoting and developing structuring projects and actions that are capable of mobilizing an increasing number of actors and inducing significant and long-lasting changes and impact on the industry.
Evidently, the actions and the public support programs can and must promote these projects. However, they are only truly efficient and effective if the industry and the university realize that they are not two separate and independent worlds. On the contrary, they are more and more part of a unique social and economic system and, therefore, their future depends on their ability to develop and explore knowledge together, thus creating wealth.
What kind of initiatives has the Forum Manufuture Portugal been promoting in order to bring the industry and the university closer?
As I have mentioned before, the best way to make companies and entities within the scientific and technological system aware of the advantages of cooperation and to mobilize them for the development of joint projects is to use concrete examples that demonstrate these advantages, preferably in contexts that are closer to the recipients.
In that sense, other than the activities associated to the development of analyses, strategies and action plans, the Forum has been organizing dynamic theme workshops that include the presentation and the discussion of practical cases, carried out, most of the time, by their protagonists. It is important to mention that eight theme workshops have already taken place in national reference companies in the context of the MANUFUTURE 2007 Conference, organized by the Forum in the city of Porto, in December of that same year. During the workshops, 16 case studies were presented (eight national and eight international).
Most recently, and in line with what has been previously said on the importance of structuring projects, the Forum has made a dynamic initiative in the area of manufacturing technologies and the result was PRODUTECH – Pole of Manufacturing Technologies.
Together with Forum AIMMAP and other entities and companies, Manufuture Portugal is one of the greatest promoters of PRODUTECH. Which do you think are the project’s main lines?
The European manufacturing industry (and, therefore, the Portuguese industry as well) is currently going through a deep transformation, seeking to respond to the challenges that come from the increasing globalization and also from the greater demands regarding energy efficiency and environmental impact of its products and processes. These changes will require the development of new manufacturing technologies, namely machines and equipment, information systems, advanced engineering systems, and others. The challenges and the technologies to be developed are horizontal, which means that they are not to be used by one sector only. When these factors are combined, there is an opportunity to develop new manufacturing technologies targeting the global market.
On the other hand, in Portugal, maintenance for a significant number of companies and sectors within the manufacturing industry, and the existence of entities within the scientific and technological system with competences acknowledged at a national and European level and industry experience, are some of the factors that promote the conditions for the development of these new technologies.
PRODUTECH wants to seize this opportunity to promote the development of manufacturing technologies in Portugal, contributing to the development, internationalization and transformation of the Portuguese and European industry. For that, we will develop a set of integrated actions and projects in the domains of cooperation, internationalization and innovation.
Which are, in your opinion, the project’s distinctive features when compared to other poles and clusters that are also being launched presently?
It is hard to single out distinctive features from all of the other poles and clusters, mainly because they are many of them and, therefore, they are quite varied. Maybe it would be easier to point out PRODUTECH’s main features, thus making the comparison with other initiatives easier and clearer:
- This is a cross initiative that aims at developing manufacturing technologies for a wide variety of sectors within the manufacturing industry. Therefore, it encompasses sector companies and entities that represent the forefront of manufacturing technologies and the main industrial sectors in Portugal.
- PRODUTECH is clearly led by the industry. Over 60% of its associates are industries or service companies.
- Every activity involves broad consortia, which means that their development will be characterized by cooperation and its results will be shared by a significant number of entities. This translates the high level of collective efficiency that this initiative entails.
- This pole and its activities are strongly articulated with other international – namely European – initiatives and partners, which gives them more credibility and sustainability, other than promoting the internationalization of the companies, their products and services.
- Finally, this is an initiative that gathers all the important sectorial entities in the area of manufacturing technologies, namely associations and Technological Centers in Portugal.
Do you think that the Portuguese manufacturing industry has the ability to compete in an increasingly globalized world economy?
Other than introducing some risks, globalization also brings more opportunities for an industry like ours. Since Portugal is a small country, we only need a “niche of a niche” of the global market in order to make a sector or a set of industrial sectors viable.
Evidently, it is necessary to identify those niches where national companies and sectors may create sustainable competitive advantages, as well as short, medium and long-term actions that allow them to explore those opportunities. Incorporating technology in products and processes is one of the most solid ways to reach that goal, although it is not the only way.
There are many companies in several sectors, many of them SMEs, which have already managed to go through this evolution. Now, it is necessary to take these manufacturing processes to a larger number of companies and sectors and this is one of the greatest challenges that the Portuguese industry has to face, a challenge to which PRODUTECH wants to provide a solution.
As a close observer, what do you think will be the future of the traditional sectors of the Portuguese industry? How about the metallurgical and mechanical sector in particular?
For many years I have heard people announcing the “death” of the so-called traditional sectors, such as the textile and clothing sector, the footwear sector, or even some mechanical sub-sectors, etc., and their inevitable replacement by cutting-edge sectors and by an economy of services. However, after all these years, these “dying” sectors are still responsible for a significant part of our economy and mainly our export rate and, therefore, they maintain, and sometimes increase their relative weight. On the other hand, these sectors still support a significant part of the service activity and, in fact, some European studies have demonstrated that each job in the manufacturing industry generates two direct jobs in the area of services.
I believe that the future depends mainly on what we are capable of doing, and not so much on expert announcements or forecasts. It certainly does not depend on fatalisms. There is only one guaranteed way of destroying companies and sectors, which is, not doing anything.
The idea that traditional sectors are against R&D and innovation is completely wrong. On the contrary, the investment in R&D and innovation is the only way that these sectors and the respective companies have of creating competitive advantages. Fortunately, most of these companies are already going down that road. This road is not free from difficulties and barriers, but several success cases show that this option is viable and advantageous.
The metallurgical and mechanical sector is an especially suitable field for the development and incorporation of technology, not only in products, but also in manufacturing processes. It is not hard to accept that it is easier to create differentiation through the incorporation of advanced technologies in sub-sectors – such as machine tool manufacturers, precision mechanics, suppliers of subsystems and components for the automotive sector, or even mould and special tool manufacturers– than in other sectors, such as the footwear sector. At the same time, it is easier to have that differentiation acknowledged and valued by the clients.
In conclusion, we would like to ask you to identify some good examples of innovation in the Portuguese industry in general, and in the metallurgical and mechanical sector in particular.
As I have mentioned before, fortunately there are plenty of good examples of innovation in the Portuguese manufacturing industry and in the metallurgical and mechanical sector in particular. For that reason, making a complete list is as hard as choosing some examples. However, I will not evade the question. Considering that we are in the context of the mechanical sector and since I only like talking about what I know, I will mention two companies in this sector that I have been following closely over the last ten years: CEI and FREZITE.
Other than the reasons that I have already mentioned, I chose these two examples because they are both SMEs and they have both developed strategies of differentiation and positioning in high added value market niches. At the same time, they are two worldwide reference companies that invest in R&D and innovation in a consistent and organized way – not only in the development of new products and services, but also in their internal process – in close collaboration with national and international scientific and technological entities. These companies have, in fact, established many strategic partnerships with clients and suppliers, having always been available to share their knowledge and experience with other companies.
It is important to mention once again that these are only two examples among many others that could and deserved to be highlighted.
TecnoMetal, November / December 2008 Edition