The MICROMAN project is developing micro manufacturing competences for research and industry—a contribution to a stronger and more competitive manufacturing industry in Europe.
The project — a training programme in micro manufacturing running from 1 October 2015 until 30 September 2019 — is coordinated by DTU Mechanical Engineering. The project includes research-based training for 13 early-stage researchers (ESR) in this specific field of manufacturing, and it is a collaboration between DTU and seven other European universities, IPU, and 13 European companies. Associate Professor Guido Tosello from DTU Mechanical Engineering is project coordinator.
Part of EU’s Horizon 2020 programme
MICROMAN is funded by the Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation, making it part of a very extensive effort within the research and development area in the EU, with a total budget of EUR 74.8 billion in the period between 2014 and 2020, the largest total budget of its kind in European history. The overall target of EU’s Horizon 2020 is to create jobs and a sustainable economy in Europe. Funding MICROMAN is part of the strategy for supporting and developing the manufacturing industry.
"The only way for Europe is to compete by making products of a better quality and develop new products, manufactured with a decrease in material and energy consumption and this includes both business to consumer and business-to-business companies."
Project Coordinator Guido Tosello
Developing the manufacturing industry in Europe
The manufacturing industry has been an important source of export from Europe for many years, and also a source of many high-quality products.
“But the amount of people employed in the manufacturing industry has been decreasing year after year,” says Project Coordinator Guido Tosello and continues: “And this is critical because if the work force within a specific field shrinks too much, companies cannot be among the best in developing new products. So the ambition is to change that trend.”
Guido Tosello says: “It’s not possible to obtain a better competitiveness in Europe through low wages or by simply lowering the price of products or elements. The only way for Europe is to compete by making products of a better quality and develop new products, manufactured with a decrease in material and energy consumption and this includes both business to consumer and business-to-business companies.”
“A large part of the European manufacturing industry is dedicated to building machines and tools. European machines and tools are sold in many countries in order to make products. There is a high added value in machines, machine components, and tools,” the Project Leader relates.
How to develop and engineer machine parts, tools and processes is one of the focus areas of MICROMAN, in close collaboration with European companies. This is also known as Public Private Participations (PPP), universities working with industries with the benefit of the companies delivering good business cases, and the universities delivering cutting-edge research results and access to specialized equipment.
A strategic choice: developing the micro-manufacturing industry in Europe
The production of micro-components is an area of manufacturing engineering expertise where Europe currently has a leading role globally and can develop its competitiveness further. Micro components are often parts of larger and complex systems, and in order to access them it is necessary to take the bigger product apart, making reverse engineering very difficult, hence ensuring high barriers to entry for copycats and competitors.
“Also, within MICROMAN we have access to the micro-manufacturing industry where the microproducts are applied,” Guido Tosello relates, “such as medical products, the tool industry, and the construction of machines—and basically anything between the final product and the machine. This is where the European manufacturing industry is very strong.”
European machines are exported widely outside Europe, and are well known for high-quality standards. In the medical industry, products and devices are subject to strict legislations, and so it follows that the best solution is if the products are made in Europe for European as well as global costumers. Within the tool industry, it is necessary to have the design of the product in order to make a good tool. “So if you outsource the tool production, competitors may be able to understand how the main product is designed. For this reason, European companies must be able to manage the entire value chain, including design, tooling, and manufacturing, otherwise they may end up with the wrong outcome, that is, eventually losing highly valuable IP on their own product,” says Guido Tosello. So the MICROMAN project is strategically focused on the machine industry, the medical industry, and the tool industry.
By strengthening SME’s, new jobs are created
An important step in the set-up of the MICROMAN project was also finding companies active in these industries, and the chosen companies have mostly been SMEs—small and medium sized enterprises with up to 250 employees.
“It’s not only about huge profits, it’s about innovation, growth, and creating new jobs,” the Project Coordinator states, “If an innovative company, particularly in the micro manufacturing sector, is doing well, they will hire more people, especially those people with this new knowledge from MICROMAN.”
After establishing the collaboration with the companies in the relevant industries, the next step was building the MICROMAN project around the ESR projects. Here, the first year of the project included hiring the 13 PhD students for MICROMAN. By September 2019, the 13 candidates will have a degree applicable within this area of the manufacturing industry, and all the companies taking part in MICROMAN can apply the new knowledge created in the project in their operations.
The MICROMAN project: An interdisciplinary training
The MICROMAN project is different from other research projects because the aim is not only about reaching a set of research objectives, but also about hiring new, young talents and put them through an interdisciplinary training programme while they are doing their research projects. During the project, all 13 PhD students will take part in eight workshops, each featuring a different topic within micro manufacturing, hosted by the universities in the MICROMAN consortium.
“All 13 MICROMAN ESRs will have the same qualifications by the end of the project, once they have completed the eight workshops. The PhD students also get a wide variety of skills across different technical disciplines, including soft skills such as scientific writing, project management, and effective communication.” Guido Tosello says.
At the end of 2016, DTU Mechanical Engineering has organized a course in research project management for the PhD students, and so will the other partaking universities in MICROMAN at their institutions.
“So at the end of our project, our PhD students will have become highly-skilled researchers with project leadership skills—really ‘plug-and-play’, so when the companies in the European industry hire them, they get a person who is fully qualified and ready to make a significant difference in Research & Development, as well as in production,” Guido Tosello concludes.
| Micro injection moulded medical component developed during the MICROMAN PhD Summer School organized by DTU Mechanical Engineering in June 2016.