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Supporting the Swiss MEM Industry’s Digital Transition

The machinery, electrical engineering, and metals (MEM) industry, which is one of the most important industries in Switzerland, is currently facing multiple challenges. Asian countries are becoming increasingly competitive. Switzerland has high labor and procurement costs. The transition to more sustainable energy and resource systems (e.g., Energy Strategy 2050 in Switzerland, the Circular Economy Package in the EU) challenges the MEM companies with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and resource efficiency. The MEM industry is also impacted by the political and legal uncertainties of recent years (bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, third corporate tax reform).

Today, it is not only a single technology, which is opening new opportunities for MEM businesses. Just like so many other industries, the MEM industry is facing a revolution brought about by digital technologies, from additive manufacturing to auditive and visual sensors, bundled together through smart algorithms enabling artificial intelligence and real-time feedbacks. For the MEM industry, digitalization creates opportunities and entails risks. Beyond efficiency gains in production, digitalization enables new or better services generating high value added for customers. Servitization through digitalization does not only include batch size 1, predictive maintenance, and remote servicing, but could also support services we have not yet even thought of. If the MEM industry manages to successfully integrate the construction of machines and the provision of innovative services into business models, surely it can meet the challenges of today und reinforce its international competitiveness. However, for this transition to materialize, the Swiss MEM industry will need to undergo a deep, socio-technical transition: labor markets, company structures, and education systems will need to adapt and co-evolve with these new business forms. If the Swiss MEM industry and relevant stakeholders fail to embark on such a transition, proactive MEM businesses from abroad or even companies from other sectors could rapidly fill the service gap, at best constraining Swiss MEM businesses to the role of industrial machinery constructers. In other words, numerous jobs are threatened. Due to the complexities and unknown factors digitalization entail, research supporting the transition to a digitalized MEM industry must be interdisciplinary and involve stakeholders as research partners so that lessons can be learned from real-world experimenting.

The Competence Center for the MEM industry supports Swiss MEM businesses in meeting these challenges by jointly developing innovative business models based on emerging technologies. The MEM Competence Center at ZHAW seeks to make a sustainable contribution to the digital transition in the Swiss MEM industry. It develops applied research projects with SMEs and larger companies on servitization through digitalization. The MEM Competence Center is taking an active part in shaping Swiss research on the digital transition with the submission last September of a proposal for a National Research Program. In every research endeavour, the MEM Competence Center builds partnerships and networks within the School of Law and Management, with other departments such as the School of Engineering, and beyond ZHAW in order to meet the call for interdisciplinarity and stakeholder involvement. The scope ranges from innovative services, to enabling technologies all the way to the business models and new forms of corporate organization. Interdisciplinary project coordination is crucial for a robust integration of all research streams and is one of the core competences of the Center.