Annual summary of the project portfolio of the Mafex innovation area


The railway sector is synonymous with technology, efficiency, and sustainability, being one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport, as well as being responsible for 9% of passenger transport and 7% of the transport of goods. With a turnover of 49.2 billion euros and an annual growth rate of 2.3% until 2025, it stands as one of the most important industries in Europe.
Since 2017 the railway sector has experienced an annual growth of 3.6%, driven largely by significant investments in rolling stock, infrastructure, and railway control. In addition to the increase in the number of vehicles and the kilometres of track available, which have served to help with the growth of the sector.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to accelerate the innovation processes, as innovation is indispensable to remain competitive worldwide.

In order to increase the impact of the European railway sector but especially the Spanish one, Mafex develops projects that help improve the competitiveness of the sector.

Over the past year Mafex has been immersed in 6 projects, 5 being at European level and 1 at regional level.

RailActivation (Activating inclusive growth in Railway SMEs)

The RailActivation project, coordinated by MAFEX, has been part of the H2020 initiative and it ended last 31st of August. The European consortium of the project has consisted of Tecnalia, the technology centre; Ditecfer, the Italian cluster; BTS, the German cluster, and Quinn, the Italian association of universities.

During the two years that the project has lasted, the objective has been to create and test business and organisational mechanisms to help railway SMEs in the adoption of innovation in the workplace. To this end, during the execution of the project, it was analysed how the culture of innovation affects digital transformation and a specific outline was proposed for railway SMEs, which has subsequently been tested in 18 companies.
With these use cases, the outline was improved, and a series of policy recommendations were proposed in order to promote the innovative culture and its importance in the process of digital transformation. These recommendations have been published in an article in Open Research Europe.

On the other hand, and in order to continue promoting innovation in the workplace and increase the impact of the project, the results of the analysis have been published in a scientific article, developed by MAFEX and Tecnalia, in the influential journal Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. The paper develops and tests the research model that encompasses individual behaviour, organisational practices, and innovation process practices among employees, analysing the impact of workplace innovation on company performance.

Finally, the framework defined for the project has been exploited in a chapter developed by Mafex and Tecnalia within the book “Decision making”. And finally, the recommendations proposed in the project have been published in Open Research Europe.

EXXTRA (Excellence Exchange and Teaming-up between railway clusters and ecosystems)

A cluster is an exceptional network to remain at the forefront of technological developments and to establish partnerships. Facts have shown that the European railway sector must remain at the forefront of R&D and innovation.

To maintain its leading position and remain able to successfully compete against foreign suppliers, the sector must face industrial transformation, digitalisation, skills shortages, and the level playing field in terms of internationalisation.

The EXXTRA project partners are innovation-driven clusters in the Railway Supply Industry (RSI) sector, a sector where the EU accounts for almost half of the global market and more than 80% of the European market share.

90% of the railway industry is represented by SMEs, and that is why clusters are becoming increasingly important. The development and sustainability of SMEs and start-ups depend on their ability to stay at the forefront of technological developments, an area on the rise in recent years. This is why SMEs and clusters need to get involved in broad and diversified networks in order to adjust their solutions according to the specific trends and needs of the sector.

After identifying the challenges and tasks to be carried out, the partners formulated an “EXXTRA Vision” on what the cluster organisation should be, in order to respond to the problems raised through activities such as the formulation of a European Partnership Joint Strategy.

Mafex, aware of the importance of this collaborative model participates in the project, whose objective is to accompany in the professionalisation of the competences and services of the clusters towards the creation and consolidation of world-class clusters in the field of Railway Technologies.

The project also has a mobility pilot programme based on the “ERASMUS” model called “ClusterXchange”, a programme that allows short-term exchanges with other European organisations, promoting cross-border cooperation, learning between parties, networking, and innovative adoption among participants from different industry groups in Europe.

STAFFER (Skill Training Alliance for the Future European Rail System)

Railway transport plays a key role for the European economy and society, but it has the potential to contribute much more. The sector is experiencing a severe staff shortage as well as a need for retraining. Furthermore, a part of the workforce is expected to retire in the next and that is why there is a need to increase the attractiveness of the sector. In turn, the transformation process driven by research and innovation requires the incorporation of the right skills and competencies.

In this context, one of the main challenges to face is the difficulty of hiring people, including women and young people. This is mainly due to two aspects: a widespread negative perception of working conditions on the railway and a poor knowledge of the high-tech employment opportunities offered by the sector.

To address this challenge, the STAFFER project brings together key players from the railway industry to work in close collaboration to meet training needs and improve dialogue between the education sector and the labour market. With a duration of 4 years and a consortium formed by 7 infrastructure operators / managers, 8 suppliers of the railway industry, 2 partnerships, a consulting company and 14 educational institutions, its main objective is to offer human capital solutions for all levels of the railway value chain, obtaining a holistic vision of the sector as a system of systems.

The final result of the STAFFER project will be the creation of a union of railway members – Skill Alliance, which will aim to develop a Blueprint strategy that will make it possible to recognise current needs and new capacities for the realisation of a single European railway area. This strategy will overcome the fragmentation of the railway industry and it will help the railway industry and educational institutions (professional and university) to design and implement specific actions to meet technical needs.

ePROMAT (Nueva Célula de fabricación de composites de alta eficiencia en productividad y materiales)

The future global market of composites presents interesting opportunities for different industries such as transport, construction, energy, or consumer goods. By 2024, the global composites market is expected to reach a value of $114.7 billion.

The challenge faced by these industries when developing new manufacturing processes for composite parts is based on finding the balance between the cost of the process, the investment, and the productivity, especially in the case of high- volume parts.

The objective of the ePROMAT project will be to develop a new 4.0 manufacturing cell for large composite parts for the railway and naval sector. This cell will be based on advanced and intelligent organisational models for the automation of the processes of lamination, preforming, handling, and moulding of optimised materials by liquid route.

The project is developed with the support of the HAZITEK 2020 programme and has a consortium of 9 industrial partners, 1 cluster (MAFEX) and 2 RVCTI agents, led by the company POLIKEA, a manufacturer of complete components and modules for the railway and naval industry.

S-ACCESS (SMEs Access to International Public Procurement)

The S-ACCESS project, which has started in July of this year, has the main objective of supporting railway SMEs in the participation in public procurement, since one of the main barriers to internationalisation faced by this type of companies are the requirements often established by local / national tendering authorities, which require the participation of local SMEs when supplying railway materials. To this end, the project will develop a series of tools to help SMEs during the bidding processes and will train them for operational activities. In addition to this, the project will develop an internationalisation strategy and a roadmap that will outline the steps to be followed by companies.

The internationalisation strategy will focus on both the market framework and the legal/tax/labour rights of three different countries, the USA, Canada, and Norway, through which it is intended to create transversal synergies with the main stakeholders and learn from success stories.

STARS (Strategic Alliances Boosting Railway SMEs)

The STARS proposal aims to develop a pilot project to create a strategic alliance in SMEs in the railway sector. The consortium consists of 11 railway clusters, 5 Technology Centres selected following a value chain approach and offering complementary specialisations suitable to accompany any type of SME for any type of transition need, and 1 initial developer and provider of a blockchain network that will be specifically available and dedicated to the project.

The opportunity will multiply the impact of the demonstrative and practical learning activities of the Technology Centres, as well as the “Hack & Match” Events that will be organised throughout the project, so that SMEs within the Strategic Alliances apply their technologies.

The project is supported by 30 relevant European organisations. And the actions carried out will respond to the objectives by addressing all aspects related to the adoption of advanced technologies by SMEs.