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OPINION COLUMN

 
The return of French industry
 
Picturing France as a leading powerhouse of European industry may seem like a pipe dream, a fantasy tinged with nostalgia for fans of economic fiction. All too often, when we talk about French factories it's in terms of job cuts, mergers and relocations. We don't talk nearly enough about our success stories, the countless small and medium-size companies which make up the extraordinary, flourishing economic fabric of our country.

And yet these success stories are all around us: active, sustainable and employing a highly-qualified workforce with an acute understanding of the major challenges facing our industrialised, ecologically fragile, ever-more connected world.

French industry also has areas of excellence in which it outstrips even our most powerful neighbours. Electronic services offer a prime example, with France outperforming Germany to emerge as Europe's leading producer in terms of turnover. In structuring the LACROIX group, I made industrial synergy a major priority by putting electronic sub-contracting at the heart of our business strategy.


Connectivity. The future of industry in France

After the electric, information and internet revolutions, our industry is now in the midst of a new, urgent and challenging era: the age of digital. This is a fundamental transformation and a strategic priority if we are to maintain the dynamism and competitiveness of French Fab. In an age where data needs to be integrated in real time in order to optimise supply chains, fabrication, distribution and bespoke customer service, connected systems are the key to total performance. Before we know it, they will be the industry standard. And as we all know, failing to move with the times is not an option.

Connected industrial objects, the new wave

As the Institut Montaigne made clear in its report on connected objects in 2015, "The internet of things and big data are paving the way towards a world which is ever more closely connected, uniting people, data and objects in what is now a comprehensive digital ecosystem."

So how is French industry keeping up? We are certainly aware of the stakes, but also apprehensive of the costs, the changes and the processes involved. Certain sectors have made considerable progress; the automobile industry is a good example. But on the whole we're not there yet, in fact we have barely begun to explore the possibilities of connected industrial objects.

And yet, in France alone the market for connected objects in the fields of housing, transportation and healthcare is worth billions of Euros. All sectors will be affected and transformed by these new technologies. Traditional activities are becoming less fenced off and more connected: we are witnessing the rise of the smart world and its ineluctable spread to all areas of our professional lives: energy, healthcare, mobility, security, agriculture etc. 


The electronics industry: making the smart world possible

The electronics industry is much younger than most other industrial sectors. After successive waves of growth driven by public sector spending in the 1970s, then by the IT boom in business, the dynamic growth of the electronics sector was brutally slowed in the early 2000s by the telecoms crisis. In the meantime, our country has become European leader in electronic production services and Europe's 2nd biggest centre of electronics manufacturing. We have succeeded in maintaining, developing and adapting an industrial strength based on an open ecosystem of research, training and clusters. The electronics industry is to France what the Mittelstand is to Germany: a system of big names, medium-sized firms and small specialists all working in synergy.

This is an incredible opportunity, at a time when the spread of electronics to all areas of our lives is creating a vast array of potential growth opportunities for our sector. Allied with the innovative power of French Tech, the unique know-how of the electronics industry is the cornerstone of our digital development, and the essential catalyst driving the transformation of French industry towards the Smart World paradigm. France's industrial powerhouses can rely on a dynamic electronics sector with a dense network of specialist sub-contractors. 

As president of the LACROIX group, I have had the privilege of witnessing first-hand the fruits of a collaborative approach to managing urban infrastructure, water and energy networks, conducted in close partnership with electronic design and fabrication specialists. The LACROIX Electronics factory is located in the Maine-et-Loire region, and has been recognised as a "Showcase for the Future of Industry." It is at the centre of a network which includes three other electronics plants in Europe and North Africa, as well as our research laboratories in France and Germany. Together they form a unified whole, open and connected to our partners, suppliers and clients. 

This growing interconnectivity extends far beyond the boundaries of our company, our clients and our suppliers. This is an industry-wide movement. The industrial roots of LACROIX remain in the West of France, an area which is home to half of the country's total electronic production services. United under the banner of the We Network cluster, of which I am the chair, the leading names in electronics in the West of France have joined forces to launch the "Wise by We Network," with the aim of shaping the future of the electronics industry in the region and in France. This initiative encompasses a whole programme of actions designed to galvanise electronics-related projects launched by start-ups, small and medium-sized businesses and big firms. It includes a clear focus on training and education, as well as the production of technological building blocks that can be directly integrated into existing systems. Food, automobiles, chemicals, textiles... all of these sectors are directly involved in the programme, working together to shape the development of the Smart World.

Our approach is working, and attracting more and more attention. And rightly so: the challenges are huge but the possibilities are endless!

Vincent BEDOUIN
Président du Groupe LACROIX