Being part of the international project “The Blue NET – Maritime Clusters Network for Blue Growth” (www.bluenet-project.eu) launched in 2016, Marine Cluster Bulgaria (www.marinercluster.com) participated in shaping of a coordinated plan for shared innovations in the maritime sector in times when the maritime industry started glimpsing positive signals for a market revamping.
The project is being realized in six countries – Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Albania, Romania, Croatia, and in the last two years a state of the art of the maritime sector in each country was delivered and a common methodology for the mapping of private innovation needs was defined. 96 companies contributed to the first survey presenting 145 innovation needs, 28 companies were further interviewed and were subject to a technological audit, 20 companies met and established new contacts during a final matching event held in July this year in Cyprus.
Although the six countries involved have diverse maritime traditions, four common maritime sectors were identified eligible for development of networks between companies for sharing of innovation ideas of mutual cooperation:
- Shipbuilding and boatbuilding: design, construction, maintenance andreparation, fittings, plants and equipment
- Maritime transport: deep-sea shipping, short sea-shipping, passengerferry services, inland waterway transport, logistics linked towaterborne transport, port activity
- Energy and raw materials: offshore oil and gas, offshore wind, oceanrenewable energy, carbon capture and storage, aggregates mining,marine minerals mining, securing fresh water supply
- Leisure, working and living: coastal tourism, yachting and marinaservices, cruise tourism.
Companies in each of the six participating countries were asked to indicate the sector in which they operate, their market orientation, the type of their customers and the main innovation needs. The comparison of the collected 145 technological needs revealed that the innovation needs are mostly derived from the market request, indeed competitors and customers’ requests seem the most chosen answers, although in companies dealing with ships and/or ports management the regulatory constraints seem to be the main innovation driver.
Most of the obstacles that the companies find in innovation were related to financing and high cost of the new technologies. The finance consultancy services were widely indicated as useful for the company growth, but often they are managed by consultants who are not always aware about the business needs and processes in the sector. Another point widely indicated as an obstacle in innovation is related to the qualification of personnel. The figure coming out from these two points is that there is a lack of workers education on innovation and new technologies and a general unfamiliarity with the financing process. In any case most of the interviewed companies have indicated their interest in innovation projects collaborating with other companies with both public and private financing.
As a result of the conducted pilot study, joint innovation paths were identified that represent opportunities for international cooperation between companies , local authorities and others stakeholders from the maritime community:
- Efficient and optimized infrastructures
- Smart design and manufacturing processes
- Environmentally respectful, automated and integrated vessels and plants.
It is relevant to be mentioned that, on one hand, the needs expressed are more and more focused on the improvement of processes and consider always interconnection between vessels and infrastructures, but also between design phases and manufacturing or operation and maintenance. As further contribution to the innovation paths, it has to be taken into account that the small scale and the direct connections and willingness to cooperate among companies could be effectively supported by local clusters.
In this regard Marine Cluster Bulgaria invites companies and technical experts and researchers in sectors related to the Blue Economy, to enlist in a database of enterprises interested in sharing mutual innovation needs, realization of international cooperation in the field of innovation and exchange of modern innovation practices.
More information about the current international and Bulgarian companies participating in the pilot innovation needs study can be found on the official project platform: www.bluenetproject-platform.com , as so far 20 Bulgarian enterprises from the maritime sector have taken part in the international initiative.