CONFIRM Centre (‘CONFIRM’), a SFI research centre based in Limerick (UL), is a world leading centre for cyber-physical manufacturing research, currently composed of 9 partner academic institutions and 100+ industrial partners.
SMART 4.0, a European Commission/SFI funded Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) cofund fellowship programme, is managed by Dr. Susan Daly and coordinated by Prof. Conor McCarthy in CONFIRM HQ. The goal of the CONFIRM SMART 4.0 programme is to enhance the creative and innovative potential of 16 experienced researchers wishing to diversify and develop through advanced training, and international and intersectoral mobility during a 24 month research programme. Following the success of Call 1, Call 2 was internationally advertised and launched on 1st July 2020.
For Call 2, there were 68 eligible candidates – this represents a 39% increase from the previous call and a 93% increase in the numbers of expressions of interest. A cumulative view of candidate areas of expertise is shown in the figure below. Aligning to the MSCA ‘bottom-up’ approach, applicants prepared and submitted their fellowship application with guidance from their chosen supervisory teams – CONFIRM’s academic and industrial partners. Based on this engagement, 16 full applications were received by the call deadline (30th September 2020; an increase of 14%).
The independent interview panels were composed of members of CONFIRM’s Community of Practice, chosen for their suitability to each proposal’s core research topic – academic subject matter experts and industry thought leaders. A fundamental tenet of SMART 4.0 program is that it is academically led, but industrially informed – at all phases in the programme, CONFIRM Centre’s industrial partners play a key role in ensuring that those selected for a SMART 4.0 fellowship possess the relevant skills arsenal and talent to provide immediate return to the competitive knowledge economy. In Call 2, industry experts from Raytheon Technologies, Offerre, Prodieco and Boston Scientific partook in the Phase 2 interview stage.
As for Phase 1 remote assessments, the Phase 2 interview panels were required to convene remotely via Zoom videoconference due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. ESR for Call 2 was completed in 2 months, with all formal responses by appointable fellows received by mid-December 2020. In both stages, candidates’ submissions were scored against set evaluation criteria – Excellence, Impact and Implementation. The 16 candidates were shortlisted and those who scored sufficiently highly in Phase 1 (>70%; n = 11) were then formally invited to interview (Phase 2). An ordered final ranking list was then prepared, based on the outcome of both phases. For Call 2, 7 such appointable candidates were identified.
Aside from the number of formal offers extended, from a CONFIRM Centre perspective, this call was successful for several other reasons. Call 2 showcased the dedication of its academic members to synergy and collaboration with a 50% increase in inter-institutional partnerships and a 250% increase in the number of inter-hub research proposals (Hub 1: Virtual Industrialisation; Hub 2: Cyber-Physical Systems; Hub 3: Self-Aware Manufacturing Systems; Hub 4: Testbeds and Prototype Lines). Noteworthy is the current proportion of female fellows, which stands at 33% – this represents a substantial divergence from the current Eurostat figures for female representation in high and medium tech manufacturing (18%).
SMART 4.0 is an inclusive, professional development opportunity for experienced researchers, aimed at creating the research leaders of tomorrow in the area of smart manufacturing. A final call for SMART 4.0 will launch on 1st February 2021.
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