Key enabling technologies and clusters: a promising future

Key enabling technologies (KETs) are an important source of innovation, which Europe has highlighted as crucial for the creation of high-value added products, a MITA press release states.

Although this concept is not very often used in practice in Lithuania, business and industry should be more aware of the benefits of key enabling technologies.

The KETs are identified by experts as nanotechnologies, microelectronics and nanoelectronics, including semiconductor electronics, new materials, biotechnology and photonics. Also, KETs include flexible manufacturing systems and digital technologies.

"Application of these technologies brings benefits to business and industry as it ensures the efficiency of production processes, promotes the effective energy consumption and saving resources", noted Kęstutis Šetkus, director of the Lithuanian Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA).

However, how the development of KETs contributes to the development of business clusters, what regional and national policies are shaped in European countries? To find the answers to these questions and share good practice partners from eight countries gathered in an international project ClusterFY. The project is coordinated by MITA and is running for the second year. The project involves innovation and cluster policy experts from the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Greece, Slovakia, Spain and Lithuania.

"The project is aimed at improving cluster policy tools, identifying opportunities for more efficient use of KETs to meet user needs, addressing social challenges and promoting international cooperation. The project goal is to enable clusters to engage in innovative business value chains to become more competitive by creating new products and technologies", said Rima Dijkstra, ClusterFY Project Manager.

Some examples can be found of clusters, which apply KETs in every European countries.

In Sweden there is a Fiber Optic Valley cluster, in which major players are universities (Mid Sweden University and University of Gavle), research organizations (RISE Acreo AB), small businesses (SenseAir) and large companies (Hexatronic Cables and Interconnect). In total, the cluster composes of almost 60 members. The cluster is working to support small business needs, that benefit greatly from partnerships and communication and this has led to the involvement of 50 companies. This cluster works with fiber optics, broadband and sensor technology.

The Mazovian ICT Cluster brings together more than 150 members in Poland, including 125 small and medium-sized enterprises, universities and research organizations. This cluster is working with information and communication, telecommunication technologies, integrating interdisciplinary areas. Technology applications include the space industry, the creative and digital industries.

The success story in Lithuania

In Lithuania is well known Laser & Engineering Technology Cluster (LITEK TM), coordinated by the Science and Technology Park of the Institute of Physics. Cluster connects nearly 20 high-tech companies and organizations operating in laser technology and precise engineering. The main objective of the cluster is to increase the international competitiveness of companies in the field of laser and engineering technologies creating innovations, to increase the awareness of the sector, to promote R&D cooperation among cluster members and with foreign partners.

So, in the case of LITEK TM, combining different areas of knowledge, continuous close collaboration, sharing ideas in photonics and engineering, leads to more effective business performance and rising results.

"Being a member of cluster gives companies the opportunity not only to optimize costs by participating in exhibitions or exploring new export markets, but also helps to find business partners, obtain orders, and accelerate the product production cycle", explained Julius Paužolis, LITEKTM cluster manager. New, knowledge-based products and technologies, such as new generation high-power ultra-short pulses lasers for faster and more efficient production, are being developed in cooperation with research institutions.

Looking into the European photonics and engineering sector from KETs perspective there are twofold benefits. "First of all, photonics is an innovative and fast-growing sector, where production volume is 3.5 times faster than the average gross domestic product of Europe, itself generates thousands of new jobs," said Julius Pauzolis, LITEK TM cluster manager.

It is important to emphasize, that photonics as key enabling technologies also help other manufacturing sectors to modernize and compete in the global market. According to J.Paužolis, the 4.0 industrial revolution has been taking place for some time, where photonic technology plays an important role as traditional manufacturing technologies give way to laser and sensory integrated robots, 3D printing.

The need for laser technology in the industry is constantly growing, because of digitalization of manufacturing, thus there are good conditions for the creation of new companies in the field of photonics and engineering in a cluster environment.

Cluster opens the gates to the world

"The presence in the cluster allows companies to target resources, knowledge and energy to strengthen their competitiveness in international markets. More opportunities are available for internationalization, so small and medium businesses are interested to join clutsers", told R. Dijkstra, ClusterFY project manager.

Since the beginning of this year, the LITEK TM cluster has been implementing an international project „Laser Go Global", aimed at developing European cluster collaboration in the field of cross-sectoral health, medical technology and photonics.

The consortium brings together six clusters from five advanced and fast growing European Union countries representing around 1600 companies and 100 science and research institutions in the fields of medicine, biotechnology and photonics. The targeted export markets will be explored in Australia, Japan, the United States, South Korea, Malaysia, Israel, Canada. During the project period, information on the needs of these markets will be collected for European companies, developing new business relationships, sharing experiences on emerging markets, setting up business representations, delivering European company products and sales offers. It is expected that at least 240 companies will be benefited from this project, the export of innovative products to these target markets will increase by 20% in the future and around 20 million euros for research development will be attracted to cluster companies.

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