Clusters Potential Role in I4.0

Clusters are defined as geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialised suppliers, service providers and associated institutions, active in a particular field that are present in a nation or a region (Porter, 2000). They are seen as hybrid forms of long-term contracting, reciprocal trading, residing somewhere between hierarchies and markets (Maskell & Lorenzen, 2003). Clusters are attractive business locations commonly associated with multiple advantages. Simultaneous co-opetition among firms and their co-operation with universities, scientific bodies and regional authorities, create synergies, while fostering innovativeness and competitiveness (Keeble & Wilkinson, 2000; Kogut & Zander. 1992; Cantwell, 1989; Dahl. Pedersen & Dalum, 2003; Barry, Goerg & Strobl, 2003; Basile, Benfratello & Castellani, 2003; Belderbos & Carree, 2002; Cieslik, 2004; Coughlin & Segev, 1997; Guimaraes, Figueiredo & Woodward, 2000; Head, Ries & Swenson, 1999).

The traditional thinking sees clusters as vertical, sectorally specialised ‘silos’ (James & Halkier, 2016), but nowadays, clusters can span sectoral boundaries and are based around common markets or shared technologies (Delgado, Porter & Stem, 2016; Puig, 2019). James and Halkier (2016, p. 832) stress the necessity ‘to identify novel directions of industrial knowledge flows, by-passing these specialised “silos”, to horizontal and combinatorial “platforms’”. In this spirit, Suwala and Micek (2018) developed a novel perspective on regional transformation. They proposed symbiotic coexistence of strategies for cluster-based ‘smart-specialisation’ and platform- based ‘diversification’, which can be called ‘smart diversification’. This new strategy might be referred to as ‘beyond clusters’, but it is definitively not a ‘post-cluster’ approach.

Clusters tend to be harnessed as vehicles for transformation and competitiveness upgr ading as it seems the need for evolution of the cluster might be even more urgent under 14.0 pressure. We may indeed witness more diversified and more dispersed clusters. The studied concepts of blending' and ‘hubbing’ illuminate the need to see the evolution of clusters as being linked to the processes of scale and scope (Njos, One & Floysand, 2017). The diversified specialisation might be the outcome of cluster policy aiming at ‘specialisation in diversification’ (Bernier, 2017). In the light of I4.0-induced transformation, the cluster might be deprived of its geographic attributes. What might matter, would be the network’s embeddedness, and not necessarily, the geographic collocation and spatial proximity. It might be hypothesised that clusters, due to 14.0 idiosyncrasies (inter-disciplinary and integrative properties), would become less spatially concentrated and less specialised.

At first sight, the concepts of cluster and advanced smart manufacturing, as envisaged by 14.0, are incompatible. 14.0 heralds ‘producing anything anywhere’, whereas the cluster ties the activity to one particular location. The previous study revealed, however, different channels of influence and outlined the ways, in which clusters can facilitate the advancement of 14.0 (Gotz & Jankowska, 2017). Idiosyncrasies of knowledge creation and subsequent dissemination, which are fundamental for 14.0, can be reconciled with the unique features of innovation processes taking place in clusters. New business models triggered by the fourth industrial revolution, epitomised by the concepts of the connected company with vanishing boundaries, or the digital business ecosystems, might be identified in mechanisms associated with clusters. 14.0 proclaims a specific organisational shift towards highly adaptive networks of inter-related entities and stipulates the re-organisation of markets towards the platform structures. In this context, clusters seem to be pre-destined to serve as centres and nodes in such configurations. Finally, clusters can be applied as a promising policy tool, organising the implementation of the fourth industrial revolution and securing a more co-ordinated and smoother digital transformation of business. It appears that a digital revolution, which is influencing global value chains (GVCs), networks and expectations towards manufacturing firms, is turning our attention to clusters as the appropriate environments. For IT-assisted and globally spread operations of 14.0, co-location still remains essential, as multiple advantages, provided by clusters, facilitate the development and implementation of 14.0. Clusters can certainly be harnessed as laboratories for 14.0 experiments. They offer a favourable environment, stimulating knowledge creation and its further diffusion, and can function as a policy tool enabling the implementation of advanced projects, while also being seen as nodes in the architecture of platforms or networks. Thus, it might be argued that cluster attributes address the imminent challenges of 14.0 and that the properties of clusters are aligned with 14.0-specific requirements.

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