Local productive systems have undergone a process of not only technological change but also organizational change. One of the biggest challenge for firms is conceiving new productive ecosystems able to accommodate and develop innovations to avoid organizational inertia. Education institutions need to reconfigure their roles to allow more opportunities for technology transfer. More generally, public administrations and local institutions must facilitate the emergence of new business models facilitated by the means of production such as financial rules, job regulations, competition law, etc.
The complexity and complementarities of digital manufacturing technologies pose new challenges to firms and require new types of R&D processes for how to transfer these technologies within manufacturing processes and products. There is an increased focus on the role of universities in knowledge brokering and networking with industry. Public policies (the UK's Catapult in UK, Italy's Piano Industria 4.0 among others) have set clear targets for the establishment of collaborative spaces (such as Competence Centres) where university laboratories and firms (especially SMEs) work together to tackle innovation challenges. This research area will study how universities can effectively embrace this new technology transfer role, and examine the patterns of cooperative innovation emerging in these collaborative spaces.
The new digital manufacturing technology paradigm known in Europe as Industry 4.0, has revitalized the debate over high performance work practices that began in the 1990s. Previous studies demonstrate that the application of lean principles affects the extent of workers' participation in continuous improvement and, in turn, their motivation and their well-being. We expect that the depth of application of new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, augmented reality, exoskeletons and collaborative robotics, will depend on the level of application of lean principles in each plant and will be influenced by the types and levels of line workers' skills. This study explores this topic at the micro-level (through a worker survey) in the institutional contexts of Italian and North-American car-making plants.