Interview with Ali Muhammad, coordinator of DIH² project

Feb 28, 2022

We interviewed Ali Muhammad, the CEO of the robotics system at European Dynamics and coordinator of DIH². The DIH² project is funded by Horizon 2020 – the European Union research and innovation programme tasked with bringing great ideas from lab to market. In turn, the programme is at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive economic growth for the future of Europe.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Ali Muhammad and I am the head of the robotics system at European Dynamics. I obtained my Ph.D. in robotics (2011) from the University of Technology in Tampere (TUT). Since 2001, I have been involved in research on several robotics projects. I am the author and co-author of over 32 publications in the field of robotics, control, teleoperation, haptics, modeling and simulation, and formal validation and verification of control systems. I represent European Dynamics on the euRobotics technology platform. I have over 17 years of experience in implementing and coordinating several national and international projects in industry and academia. I led multinational and multidisciplinary teams of mechanical, electrical, software and control engineers for the successful completion of control systems and robotics projects. I was part of the I4MS CSA, which developed DIH across Europe and created a mentoring program for DIH. I am the technical coordinator of the L4MS (Logistics for Manufacturing SMEs) and Better Factors (Grow Your Manufacturing Business) projects under the I4MS program and the coordinator of the DIH² network (Pan-European Network of Robotic DIHs for Agile Production), which has 80 DIHs. Covering 26 European countries.

Which role of DIH² have to create the impact on digitization in Europe?

In every region of Europe there is an agency that provides digital transformation of the region and can involve all sectors in cities, everything from transport to agriculture, to health and manufacturing in general, also serves to further support this center for digital innovation. Since digital transformation requires knowledge, expertise, technology, money … it takes a lot of different things to come together to make it happen.

So, if one digital innovation center needs help, there is always another digital innovation center that can help it. Through joint efforts, digital innovation centers are becoming more functional. DIH² is a network of digital innovation centers focused on the manufacturing industry and the digitalization of the manufacturing industry. And why is DIH², because it is a network of digital innovation centers where there is a law of the network that shows that the value of the network in which it is located is actually square or exponential of the number of members in the network.

What is the role of DIHs in the accelerating robotics innovations of the EU? How can this role be strengthened?

I think the role of  DIHs, especially in the manufacturing industry is to first raise awareness for discovering their needs, help them to actually discover their need and find out what is the digitization path for them. For each company, it can be very different. Moreover, after the needs have been found out, then they can bring the right technology to make them available to the testing facilities.

What are the key elements which robotics Digital Innovation Hubs should use to support the digitalization of their local ecosystems?

I think when it comes to using robotics that something always brings higher profitability and higher productivity. Creating a business case is the biggest requirement.

Which policies should the robotics DIHs pay attention to in the coming years?

I think the policies to pay attention to are mostly related to using artificial intelligence, or rather the training and education of the new, let’s say like workforce. I think those are the important aspects.

What are some future funding opportunities for the robotics DIHs?

Future funding opportunities aren’t continuously coming from the European Commission and from the Horizon program, and the Horizon program in the Digital Europe program, but I think there are a lot of funding opportunities at the regional and national level. I believe that there are quite a number of interested investors. And if you can bring a good business case to the banks to the other financial institutions, I think you can also get the funding.

Please, name a few challenges and opportunities of robotics DIHs in Europe?

I think that the biggest challenge when it comes to robotics is not something you can put it in the factory. You have to have a certain level of digitalization in your company, to get the most out of it. And I think the biggest challenge in certain regions is that the industry is far behind on the path of digitalization. 

What are the biggest challenges that your SMEs have (including COVID-19) and how do you help them to address it?

When it comes to COVID, the companies which were more digitized or connected, have managed to minimize the impact of the COVID, because robots can’t be infected. So, things can continue as they are. Also, there is a need to rely less on the workforce, as the workforce is more educated. So I think in many sectors, including manufacturing robotics, they have a very positive impact on the companies who are using more automation and more robots on the manufacturing as compared to the ones which are not.

Find out more about DIH² here and on their social media platforms.