French industry is facing a number of challenges, including a shortage of components and the energy transition. SMIs, on the front line, are adapting to these challenges and focusing on innovation to remain competitive.
In 2022, industry will account for 13% of French GDP, according to INSEE. The sector is represented by major groups such as Renault and Airbus, to the detriment of small and medium-sized businesses, which are often overlooked. The latter are faced with a number of strategic and structural challenges, such as innovation and decarbonisation.
This is the case of Alfi Technologie, a small business based in Maine-et-Loire that designs and installs production lines. The company has invested 5% of its sales for 2022 (€35 million) in R&D. To remain competitive, the company is exploiting the latest digital innovations in simulation and visualisation.
Yann Jaubert, Chairman of Alfi and ambassador for French Fab in Maine-et-Loire, believes that transforming industry requires a new mindset. He believes that the sector's priorities are "innovation, modernisation of production resources, ecological and environmental performance, and training".
A revolution is taking place in all industrial sectors," says Olivier Dario, President of Evolis, the association of machine and equipment manufacturers. Innovation is one of the keys to meeting the challenge of reindustrialisation: "These issues call for innovation, and it's often the small and medium-sized businesses that are behind them", says Olivier Dario.
Yann Jaubert identifies two major obstacles for industry: training and the shortage of resources. In his view, France does not train enough for industrial jobs. What's more, he notes that these jobs are not attractive enough to young people and often have a poor image. Olivier Dario makes the same point: "We need a new narrative for industry". To restore the image of industry among young people, French Fab is running initiatives in secondary schools to explain industrial professions to future graduates.
The director of Alfi also points to a lack of components, which is slowing down production. Re-industrialisation "must involve national sovereignty over components", explains Yann Jaubert. Finally, he is grateful to the French government for the France Relance plan, which has enabled his company to receive a €700,000 subsidy.
Decarbonisation, an inevitable step
The environmental issue is one of the major challenges of this transition. According to Olivier Dario, machinery and equipment will play a vital role in reducing energy consumption in factories, controlling the carbon footprint of industrial processes and avoiding the waste of materials.
Machines will also have to make the transition from diesel to greener energies such as hydrogen. Industrial equipment manufacturers will have to focus more on reconditioning machines," says Olivier Dario. For SMIs, working on environmental solutions is a competitive advantage," explains the trade unionist.