Industry is experiencing a fourth revolution based on new technologies and innovation. The goal is to build industry that is increasingly interconnected and competitive while being ever more respectful of workers and the environment. France has a plethora of assets to help take on this challenge.

Industry is undergoing a fully-fledged revolution. New technologies, such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) and artificial intelligence, are turning the industrial sector on its head and bring the whole production model into question.

“Industry of the future”, “Industry 4.0” or “smart manufacturing”: these different names represent a single reality, an inter-connected, automated and digitized industrial framework designed for improving factory productivity, the quality of goods and in the working conditions. France has a card to play in this game-changing digital revolution. Having lead the industrial revolution of the 19th century, the 4.0 revolution is a perfect opportunity for France to claim that title once more. In fact, France is already well on the way to this with the industry of the future already generating a turnover of 6.8 billion euros. Automatization, robotics, data crunching and analysis, predictive maintenance, the cloud, big data, the Internet of Things, cyber security, additive manufacturing: at least 729 French companies offer technologies that will help transform the industry.

The industry’s CES

To understand the scale of the current revolution, look no further than the Hanover Fair, taking place from the 23rd to the 27th of April. Over the past few years, the world’s largest industrial expo has effectively become the “industry’s CES”, in reference to the annual Consumer Electronics Show that takes place in Las Vegas every year. In the last three years, the Hannover Fair has enabled global industry’s transformation and boasts multiple halls exclusively for production line digitization as well as environmental efficiency. The French section of the show, lead by Business France, can be found in Hall 8, the Hall dedicated to industries of the future. It is a crucial place to be as last year, French companies in attendance secured on average 40 commercial contracts a day. This number can rise to over 100 for companies who come prepared.

Doubling productivity gains

A digital revolution is crucial for France as industry is one of the main drivers of the French economy. With 274 billion euros of wealth generated, it represents 13% of France’s GDP. Integrating new technologies into the industrial sector offers a huge opportunity for growth. According to EY research, the industry of the future should allow industries to double their year on year productivity gains. For example, industrials that have integrated artificial intelligence can see their margins increase by 3 to 15% according to McKinsey Global Institute. The government has fully understood the high stakes of this digital revolution: 450 million euros have been dedicated to the industry of the future through the future investment program. France now boasts no less than 270 artificial intelligence startups and investors seem sold on their growth potential as they raised 278 million euros in 2016.

This understanding seems to have taken root on multiple levels. “On recent missions, we have noted demands for the use of artificial intelligence technology in production despite this technological brick being one of the newest in the industrial fabric,” says EY in their industry of the future barometer 2018. 80% of French industrial companies have already begun transforming their models and 1 in 2 companies have formalized their roadmap to this change.

Numerous assets

In the race towards the digitization of industry, France has a wealth of assets: a rich industrial fabric, a thoroughly integrated value chain and world class engineers. It has enjoyed a number of successes. The surgical assistance robot Rosa, E-fan, the electric aeroplane, and the IT school 42: these three innovative landmarks were all born in France. In the aerospace sector, the achievements keep on coming. This key structural sector for the French economy - 187 000 employees and a 60 billion euros turnover - embraced innovative technologies very early on. In fact, aerospace manufacturing dedicates 3.6 billion euros to R&D. These investments allow France to stay one step ahead. For example, Airbus has announced that its experimental electric flying taxi took off for the very first time on the 31st of January 2018. Last November, the aviation giant has also announced a new partnership with Siemens and Rolls Royce in order to develop the E-Fan X; a prototype hybrid plane that is due to take to the skies by 2020. The goal? To develop a narrow-body electric or hybrid aircraft based on the A320.

Artificial heart

French innovation has also brought in foreign investors; in 2016, Japan welcomed its first robot taxi - manufactured by EasyMile, a French company that specializes in driverless vehicles. Revealed at the “Mondial de L’Automobile“ in Paris in 2014, the autonomous shuttle EZ10, developed by the Toulouse-based startup, has racked up hundreds of test campaigns in about 20 countries around the world. Another exploit, French startup The Bot Studio has developed “Talk To My Car”, a chatbot which allows drivers to chat to their car in order to check the fuel level, ask where it is parked or even check for anomalies.

Robotics hasn’t overlooked the medical field when it comes to revolutionizing practices. Medtech, a French medical company, acquired by Zimmer Biomet in 2016, has developed “Rosa”, a surgical robot which is one of only five robots allowed to operate globally. The robot, designed to assist neurosurgeons with the most minute surgical movements has been a roaring success with multiple hospitals and can be found operating all over the world: United States, China, Canada, Europe…

All these success stories only confirm a real desire for France to take point in industries of the future.