05 Jul 2019   |   Network update from Fraunhofer
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The next industrial revolution will come from nature

The combination of processes, principles and materials found in nature applied systematically to engineering is a new trend in manufacturing.

Maurizio Gattiglio, Co-chair ManuFUTURE High Level Group and EVP of Prima Electro

“The future of sustainable value creation systems” was the theme of a workshop on the Biological Transformation of the European manufacturing industry, hosted by the European Technology Platform ManuFUTURE and Fraunhofer in Brussels. Some 40 experts from industry, the European Commission and research institutions discussed how materials, structures and processes of living nature could be used in manufacturing for a more sustainable future. In parallel the Commission published the first draft of the “Strategic Plan” for Horizon Europe which references bio-inspired and bio-integrated manufacturing as well as “enhanced information-based technologies inspired by nature and biology”.

Industry makes a significant contribution to the European economy and provides 36 million jobs to Europeans but industrial products are also the third biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and have a negative footprint on depletion of resources , pollution or biodiversity loss. Today it is clear that disruptive and sustainable technologies are needed if we want to comply with the Paris Agreement and at the same time keep and create jobs in Europe. “There is no time to lose, we need to act now”, said Professor Thomas Bauernhansl, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA at the ManuFUTURE workshop in Brussels, “new bio-intelligent manufacturing concepts will help to address the challenges we face.” Bio-based innovation will play a major role in the transition of various industries to circular economy models. “Using biological waste or renewable resources to manufacture chemical, pharmaceutical, packaging or various consumer products is just the beginning towards a climate-neutral and circular economy where bio economy already today plays an important role”, explained Dr. Markus Wolperdinger, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB.

The Biological Transformation

At the ManuFUTURE workshop in Brussels Professor Bauernhansl and Dr. Wolperdinger presented, as the result of a broadly based scientific consultation of German companies, three progressive stages of the Biological Transformation: bio-inspired, bio-integrated and bio-intelligent.

As a first stage, bio-inspired products can already be found in different sectors for instance in the form of robot gripper arms reminiscent of elephant trunks or cameras that are inspired by insect eyes. This is also known as bionics and addresses the imitation of natural structures and “bioreactors”, e.g. the use of living cells to produce pharmaceuticals.

Maurizio Gattiglio, vice chair of ManuFUTURE, explained the bio-integration stage by examples such as self-healing materials. At this stage of the Biological Transformation biological processes will be integrated in manufacturing processes or products.

The third stage is what the researchers call bio-intelligence, or the merging of biology, IT and engineering. We are already seeing the initial signs of bio-intelligence in the form of machine learning and swarm-intelligence logistics systems. But that is merely the very beginning.

During the workshop the experts elaborated on the "Strategic Plan" of the Commission, described the potential of the Biological Transformation for Europe and made recommendations for possible priority areas and accompanying policy measures. The discussions focused in particular on the impact that the biological transformation will have on the sustainability of the industry and the technological sovereignty of Europe.

The Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe

The ManuFUTURE workshop was organized in light of the preparation of the "Strategic Plan" for the forthcoming research framework programme "Horizon Europe". On 28th of June 2019, the European Commission published a preliminary version of this plan which will be put under scrutiny by an intensive stakeholder consultation process. It should reflect current trends and challenges and will define thematic cornerstones of “Horizon Europe” for the first four years and serve as a guiding document for the preparation of work programmes and calls for proposals. The Biological Transformation of manufacturing being an important part of these trends.

The workshop results will be summarized in a working paper and made available to the Commission in September 2019. In autumn, the topic of biological transformation will again be a priority issue  at the “Research and Innovation Days” of DG Research and Innovation in Brussel (24 – 26 September 2019) and at the "ManuFUTURE 2019 Conference – Sustainable Smart Manufacturing" in Helsinki (30 September – 1 October 2019). 

This communication was first published 5 July 2019 by Fraunhofer. 

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