• The centre is a leading player in the research and development of these technologies that provide products with innovative capabilities
  • "Smart systems integration" can be applied across a whole host of sectors like transport, energy, industrial capital goods, and healthcare and food, among others


The financial difficulties, the high-risk investment and the lack of knowledge of suppliers are the main obstacles facing small and medium enterprises when it comes to incorporating new technologies enabling them to drive forward their competitiviness. "Smart Systems Integration" can help SMEs take a significant leap forward in this respect, as they are capable of providing products with innovative features that constitute an advantage over the competitors and can be applied in a host of sectors.

The EU-European Union has recently approved two research projects in which the Basque R&D centre IK4-IKERLAN will be contributing its knowledge in this field. These initiatives, known as Gateone and Smarter-SI, have a total budget of 9.8 million euros. It comes as no surprise that the centre is accumulating considerable experience in research and development in microtechnologies, a sphere in which it is making a growing commitment to be able to provide the Basque industrial base with value.

IK4-IKERLAN is a benchmark in research into technologies of this type in the Basque Autonomous Community (region), and due to its close relationship with the enterprises and companies in the area, it is an essential player in encouraging the deployment of them.

Microtechnologies, which are capable of providing products with 'smart' functions, can be applied in all kinds of sectors, but four can be highlighted in terms of their volume: transport, energy, industrial capital equipment, and finally, healthcare and food. The first three already have a highly significant presence in the Basque Country, while the activity of the last one is less prominent, even though it is a significant niche opportunity due to the evolution in market demand.

But in which specific examples could microtechnologies be useful for enterprises? There are numerous examples, but to mention just a few, they can be applied to improve the control of processes carried out by a machine, to monitor the wear of critical components in a means of transport, or to develop portable equipment for the rapid diagnosis of infections in people or animals.

EU backing

To help SMEs get a look into these innovations, the EU has recently set up two research projects funded by 9.8 million euros and which aim to facilitate the access of small enterprises to smart systems in which IK4-IKERLAN will be contributing its experience in the field of microtechnologies.

Over the last few years the EU has been placing its trust in IK4-IKERLAN on numerous occasions through the approval of various projects in which technology and knowledge have been developed in this field. In some of them the centre has led the consortium, while in others it has played the role of leading R&D partner. “With the approval of two new projects clearly designed to bring the technology to SMEs, the EU acknowledges two fundamental things in IK4-IKERLAN: its R&D leadership in microtechnologies and its close relationship with the business base and with SMEs, in particular," said the IK4-IKERLAN researcher Aitor Ezkerra.

The Gateone and Smarter-SI European projects, set to run for a total of 36 months, have been designed with the intention of allowing European SMEs to adopt and market smart systems, in other words, systems capable of monitoring the environment, offering the user information and even making decisions and generating responses on the basis of the data processed.

Microtechnologies are a key component in the development of these systems as they contribute to the capacity for capturing information, the carrying out of the initial data processing and the interaction with the smart devices in their vicinity. Within these projects, the weight of microtechnologies is particularly important since they assume a major role in differentiation and giving the final demonstrator a competitive edge.

“These projects aim to cover the distance that separates SMEs from technological innovation and to provide a meeting point among all these enterprises, the technological providers and the means of funding for the joint development of these products," explained Ezkerra.

The R&D centre is performing a leading role in the two projects in which it will undertake to evaluate the concept of co-operative factory and the manufacturing chain, in particular, in polymer microfluidics, flexible electronics, encapsulation, interconnection and integration.

What is more, it will be in charge of developing an industrial prototype with a group of European SMEs and carrying out actions involving marketing and integration with business players with the aim of demonstrating the possibilities of the smart systems in actual products.

As far as Ezkerra is concerned, one of the main distinctive features of the initiatives is based on the fact of developing together with companies products "that can be sold and which have a market; it is not about designing technologies a long way from the market, or exploratory ones".

The projects

Specifically, the Smarter-SI initiative, led by the German Institute for Microelectronics HSG-IMIT and supported by funding to the tune of 4.5 million euros, seeks to introduce a European platform of co-operative manufacturing for the design, prototyping and manufacture of smart systems as opposed to the current model based exclusively on manufacturing.

The Gateone project led by the French company Yole Développement and provided with funding of 5.3 million euros, aims to demonstrate to European SMEs that technology is a source of competitive differentiation and aims to create opportunities so that they will pluck up the courage to innovate by reducing the risk of their investments and endeavouring to generate dialogue between the technology providers and the SMEs.


IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre in technology transfer and in the contribution of competitive value to companies, thanks to its capacity to offer comprehensive solutions by combining various technological domains. This is possible due to its high degree of expertise in six major areas: embedded systems, power electronics, microtechnologies, energy efficiency and storage, mechatronics and advanced manufacturing.

IK4-IKERLAN will be participating in two European projects to the access of enterprises to these  systems
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