Industry 4.0, opportunity for food businesses

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The Italian National Plan Tax identifies incentives, investments in 4.0 technologies and goods, expenditures for research, development and innovation.

Many opportunities for food businesses, concerning the improvement of raw materials and processing efficiency, processing and packaging machines and equipment, as well as traceability and protection of the quality of Made-in-Italy products.

The Industry 4.0 National Plan may be a real opportunity to relaunch the competitive capacity of Italian companies due to tax incentives for private investments that reward innovative companies. It provides plenty of opportunities to the food industry, the second largest sector in the Italian manufacturing industry.

It has been discussed in February 2017, during a seminary promoted by Federalimentare in cooperation with the Politecnico of Milan and the Fondazione Politecnico of Milan. In particular, the strategic measures integrated into the Plan have been analysed, including the digitalisation of industrial processes, improvement in workers’ productivity, development of new skills 4.0 (digital school, alternating school-work programs, industrial doctorates) and possible agro-food intervention areas in research and innovation.

What is Industry 4.0? The “Industry 4.0” National Plan was launched by the Italian Government on the September 21, 2016. The key elements of the Plan are: innovative investments in 4.0 technology and goods, expenditure in research, development and innovation; to create skills, such as digital school and alternating school-work programs, dedicated university and high-school courses; the creation of competence centers and digital innovation hub; and financing of technological clusters and industrial PhDs.

To do this, the Plan provides for 2017 the implementation of private investments of more than 10 bn Euro (between 80 and 90 bn Euro), an increase by 11. 3 bn over the 2017-2020 period in R&D private expenditure and of 2. 6 bn Euro in the volume of early stage private investments. Industry 4.0 may be successful if adequate network infrastructures can be ensured (ultra broadband plan): it is estimated that within 2020, 100% of the Italian companies will have access to 30 Mbps connectivity, and 50% will have access to 100 Mbps connectivity.

According to Federalimentare, the “Industry 4.0” National Plan is innovative for its provisions to foster the Italian competitiveness. The provisions include targeted programs, based on horizontal priorities, with the aim of relaunching investments. The agro-industry has a very high potential: availability of data sharing and management systems, to make processes more efficient; recording of data and parameters; traceability and authentication of the Made-in-Italy; integration of logistic systems, in order to shorten the production chain while offering more interaction with the territory.

According to Federalimentare, one of the necessary steps consists in ensuring the resources needed for preserving the autonomy of businesses while selecting new technologies; without forgetting the high priority of providing simpler procedures for the access to support measures, against the background of a wider dismantling of the bureaucratic burden on firms, which can no longer be put off. According to the Fondazione Politecnico of Milan, research and innovation can be the key elements to relaunch a sector with a great potential for Italy. Moreover, the co-operation between universities, research and industrial players is essential (small and medium businesses of the agro-food sector).

Strong points. There are many strong points. Horizontal tax incentives replacing tenders, that leave companies completely free to choose where to invest.

Increasing investments in new digital technologies in the factory and along the production chain may contribute to achieve higher efficiency and effectiveness, with positive effects also on production costs and profits. Businesses will have access for: real-time production monitoring through advanced sensors; maximising the uptime of industrial assets, while reducing times; optimising warehouse stocks; programming and improving logistics; developing new products. Opportunities that the food sector should seize.

The possibility of having access to “Digital Innovation Hubs” and “Big Data” sharing systems for full evaluation of available data, granting selective access to the users.

The logging systems of data/production/process parameters – nowadays still in paper form – may be transferred on a standard digital support, exploiting the redundancy of the BigData system. A new way of considering product traceability and sourceability, with augmented rationalization of logistics systems and decrease in rejects. The coherent management of flows and orders will shorten the production chain.

Action plan priorities. Focusing on the food industries, according to Paolo Bonaretti, Policy adviser on industrial policies of MISE, Chairman of C. L. A. N – the Italian Technological Agrofood Cluster -, action plan priorities mainly concern agro-food and precision farming (or satellite farming); improvement of raw materials, process efficiency, packaging and processing machines and equipment; as well as traceability, authentication for the protection of Made-in-Italy quality; innovative systems for integrated logistics; new and active packaging solutions; sustainability.

Digitalisation of agriculture, collection and analysis of BigData, will be instrumental in defining optimization strategies for medium-term inputs and short-term agricultural intervention strategies. The management of biodiversity will be possible in order to increase productivity and resilience, next to the enhancement and reservation of rare and local varieties. Digitalisation of agriculture will promote the creation of prescription maps for the fertilisation, protection and use of water, as well as the development of systems for the early detection and localization of diseases.

At the same time, innovative statistical models will favour animal genetic improvement, just like the use of animal crossing techniques. With regard to the production and packaging of food products, action plan priorities concern the improvement of quality and processing efficiency, in order to extend the shelf-life of safe high-quality fresh or fresh-like food, and to improve the storage and handling of products, including the reduction of losses at the beginning of the production chain, as well as the reduction of scraps.

Innovative technologies can assist food companies in implementing new sustainable logistic-distribution systems, in order to reduce distribution costs and the environmental impact. Integrated sensors along the processing phase will optimise the use of water and energy. And the data supplied through advanced sensors for microbial and chemical detection will positively influence equipment hygiene. Even traceability focused on safety and authentication for protecting the quality of Made-in-Italy products will benefit from higher investments in innovative technologies and digitalisation of agri-food industries, in order to develop adequate control tools for the detection of agri-food frauds; create systems and technologies to combat counterfeiting and control the authenticity of food products; locate methods and molecular markers to ensure the traceability of Made-in-Italy products”.

Tax opportunities. In terms of taxation, the plan estimates an increase of the amortization rate for investments in 4.0 technologies from 140% to 250% (Law 232/2016, Art. 1).

The Hyper-depreciation will take longer, and with a different modulation of tax credits – which will be incremental – for research and innovation, bringing the internal expenditure rate will up to 50%, with a maximum credit from 5 to 20 million Euro. More than 900 million Euro are provided for reform and refinancing of the Public Guarantee Fund for 2017.

Additional and mandatory bonds for goods benefiting of the Super-Depreciation and Hyper-Depreciation are exposed in Annex A and B. To take advantage of the benefits, the compliance declaration/appraisal/certificate for capital goods shall verify and confirm the technical and managerial characteristics of the good so that it can be described as “4.0 good” (Art. 1, par. 11), verifying additional and mandatory bonds.

The good shall be uniquely identified, in order to know its origin and for the security of data, and it shall be accompanied by a technical analysis. In order to guarantee a broad diffusion of these measures (Art. 1, par. 12, 13, 14). Item delivery date is extended to 30/06/18; however the order and a > 20% deposit must be finalized by 31/12/2017.

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