Interview with RIMA

We interviewed Christophe Leroux, coordinator of RIMA project, and Aksel A. Transeth, who is now leading the continuation of the RIMA project – the RIMA Alliance. RIMA (Robotics for Inspection and Maintenance) was a 4-year project, funded by European Union’s Horizon2020 initiative, aiming to tackle the gap between the potential for I&M robotics and the market by establishing a network of 13 Digital Innovation Hubs (DIH) and industry associations to support the uptake of robotics – and help small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to develop novel solutions for different industry sectors.

The Innovation Action project that you have been coordinating has come/is coming to an end. What has been your experience with the RIMA project project so far? What impact have you created for your DIHs and the industry?

The RIMA project resulted in the consolidation of a community interested in innovation in different sectors related to inspection and maintenance of infrastructures. This resulted in the constitution of the RIMA Alliance which gathers a set of involved in value chain, from research to users. RIMA organized a set of courses to favor uptake of robotics technologies and train people in a hands-on approach. Several publications were produced including a body of knowledge on regulation, some documents to raise awareness on cybersecurity in robotics and several books. The RIMA project was an instrument to support research and innovation, putting together experience in different technologies and in different sectors of application. We have supported 50 experiments involving more than 100 SMEs. So far, our DIHs have supported the creation of more than 60 new products and services, helping SMEs sign 25 new deals and raise over 40 million Euros in new investment.

What was the most challenging while supporting the SME projects? How did you overcome it?

The challenge for RIMA, while supporting SMEs, was to make experiments successful. For this,  a mentoring process was set up to engage all DIHs of our network in making these experiments successful. This process included providing technical support of different sorts and access to infrastructures to assess the technologies developed, assistance to raise funds and to engage in the ecosystem, in order to help SMEs in the development of their market. The mentoring process was flexible enough, though, to enable SMEs to overcome difficulties, like those coming from the COVID crisis, like the difficulties to get the necessary supplies and the difficulties to travel and access testing infrastructures. At the end, the 50 experiments mentored in RIMA reached their objectives and a large part of them have been able to create new products and to have a socioeconomic impact.

Is there a project or result that you are particularly proud of? Could you share a success story with us whereby one of your beneficiaries has made significant progress in their robotics innovation goals thanks to the work of your network?

We are quite proud of the creation of the network of DIHs, demonstrated by the creation of the RIMA Alliance, which gathers most DIHs and sectorial associations and facilitators that were involved in RIMA. The RIMA Alliance is the expression of the strong interest from partners to maintain this community of organizations interested and involved in research and innovation in Inspection and Maintenance of infrastructures. The Alliance gathers organizations, actors covering the value chain, having expertise and “speaking the same language” about Inspection and Maintenance robotics, whatever the sector of application. Another reason to be proud of the outcomes of RIMA is the satisfaction expressed by the SMEs that participated to the experimentations (more than a hundred) and their satisfaction with the support they received (“High knowledge around robotics”, “effectiveness of piloting”, “DIH adapted to our problems and need”, “guidance in industrialization, developments, and dissemination”, “got access to useful equipment”, “very useful for us to network with other partners of RIMA”, “milestone for the development of the team and company”, “helped us to reach our next level”, “provide us with technical support and access to facilities”, “When is the next call?” Proudness comes also from the feedback of end users, asset owners or operators about the way the network has been able to understand challenges in their sectors (energy production and distribution, renewable, nuclear, petrochemical, transport). Last but not least, RIMA has organized a set of courses to stimulate use of robotics and several reference documents available to all about cybersecurity issues and regulations. A couple of books have been produced to illustrate the outcomes.

What are your plans, talking about the sustainability of your network?

To talk about the plans, we need to talk about the RIMA Alliance a bit. So, the Alliance is a gathering of organizations and individuals that have an interest in Inspection and Maintenance robotics, and we organize the Alliance by differentiating between members and affiliates. Members are typically from R&D and sectorial organizations – large organizations representing sectors such as non-destructive testing, bridges, water infrastructure and so on. And they will sign a collaboration agreement and join the Alliance. Then we have the affiliates, because it’s very nice to have a gathering of R&D actors, like DIHs, EDIHs, research organizations, universities and sectorial organizations, but of course we need to have a close collaboration with the industry, regulatory bodies, investors and others. And these last ones can join the RIMA Alliance as affiliates, on the RIMA website. 

So, speaking about the next steps, we plan to host a second general assembly, mostly for the members, but we will consider the affiliates, at the next ERF, in Rimini. We are now looking to expand the network. We already have 100+ organisations and others that have registered through the RIMA project and we hope they will also join the RIMA Alliance. We will work very closely with robotics organisations like euRobotics topic groups and ADRA topic groups to host events and basically, get people together. 

What services will you continue to offer to your members as a DIH network?

We can divide our services into ecosystem, technology, and business. In terms of ecosystem services, we are talking about making it possible for relevant actors in Inspection and Maintenance robotics to get together and share best practices, needs, and their possibilities, and based on that to facilitate collaboration. So in this sense, we will provide digital and physical venues to establish collaboration. On the technology side, the main service, I would say, is to facilitate access to the different members of RIMA. Because the members of RIMA provide test facilities, research, competence, and piloting innovation services. Basically, we would be the middleman who facilitates the access of companies to different services available in RIMA, through our members – making sure their needs are met. And then we have the business services: on the one hand, we will encourage project development through these meeting venues and sharing funding opportunities and so on, and there will also be a skills and education focus. Members will get access to the Inspection and Maintenance robotics courses that were developed in RIMA and hopefully, they will provide those courses further within their ecosystems. But we will also try to promote and foster the creation of new skills and competence. For example, going back to the events, we could have speakers talking about the needs they see in terms of competence in the future of workforce in this field.

How can potential clients access your services?

In terms of events, they will have to register for our events, which will be available on our website. Further on, potential clients in need of technology services can contact us through our website. They will not be charged for their inquiries, but we will facilitate access to the members of the RIMA Alliance, who can meet their technological needs and who will further follow up individually. 

How to get in contact? We have a website, which is hosted by euRobotics and that would be the main point of contact.

If your network is open for new members, how can our target audience sign up to become a member of your network?

RIMA Alliance welcomes all companies, research organisations, DIHs and associations working with inspection and maintenance robotics to join the RIMA Alliance. New members are welcome to join RIMA Alliance by accessing our RIMA website. There is a tab dedicated to this: https://rima-network.eu-robotics.net/contact

How do you think that being a member of your network is going to impact the performance of your DIH members? What added value is it going to bring to their operations?

For both members and affiliates of RIMA Alliance, this is a possibility of staying ahead. Regarding research organizations, we will help them understand what the current and future market needs, what are the next research challenges, and where they should put their efforts. We will support them build collaborations, initiate projects and deliver competence and technologies to companies and public sector. On what concerns affiliates, they can stay ahead by accessing cutting edge technologies, and also know-how and innovations and getting in touch to people who can help them build their next value proposition. At the same time, the end-users, asset owners basically, but also suppliers, get the chance to shape the next-generation technology and services. So they can go out and tell us: ‘We need this type of system’ and then research organisations or other RIMA members can try and meet that need.  

Finally, what message or advice would you like to share with our participants here to motivate them to continue growing and advancing this network collectively?

Building on our shared commitment to advancing the Inspection and Maintenance Robots network, I would like to emphasise the importance of growth and collaboration. In our journey forward, let’s not only focus on individual advancements but also explore meaningful partnerships with other networks. By proactively identifying synergies and avoiding overlaps, we can create a harmonious ecosystem that leverages the strengths of each network. Together, we have the opportunity to establish a collaborative environment that fosters innovation and sets new standards in our industry.

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