According to EUROSTAT, the Toys and Games manufacturing sector (Games and Toys, NACE 32.4) in the EU comprises around 5,300 enterprises employing around 53,000 persons and generating a turnover of more than 8 billion euros annually. The sector is dominated by SMEs, at a very high rate – more than in most Creative Industry sectors – since 99% of the toy manufacturing enterprises have less than 249 employees, while they provide 61% of the employment in the whole sector.
Regarding the competitiveness of EU Toy manufacturers in the global scene, conclusions can be derived by examining the international trade statistics in conjunction with EU Toy manufacturers exports and the total toys’ sales in the EU and globally. While EU accounts about 27% of the global toy sales, 85% of those sales refer to imports from China. On the other hand, the export share (as percentage of the world international trades) of EU Toy industry is 4,6%, without including the intra-EU trade in order to get an undistorted picture of the EU’s performance as a trading block. While, by examining exports per individual country, total EU countries exports worth 5.3 billion euros, only 1.1 billion euros refer to exports to the rest of the world since 4.2 billion euros refer to intra-EU trade.
Given the above, it can be derived that in order EU industry SMEs to be competitive in the EU market (where they have to compete with low cost toys imported from China, as well as with those of the global brands) as well as for increasing the total EU toy industry exports, they have to invest towards reducing their elastic costs, referred above, while building upon innovation. The ToyLabs project has been conceptualised and designed exactly for supporting EU industry SMEs to become more competitive and gain access to new markets by increasing their innovation potential while reducing both product development and product quality assurance costs. Specifically, ToyLabs will act in the following parallel axes in order to overcome the challenges that the EU toy manufacturing industry and especially SMEs have to face, by means of:
- Building a network of Toy industry stakeholders, supported by an innovative enterprise collaboration and co-creation ICT platform, in order to offer to participating SMEs an environment for actually implementing an Open Innovation Model, getting at all phases meaningful feedback from prospective customers as well as from domain experts, leading with minimum cost to products introducing novelties with great market potential.
- Utilising state of the art ICT tools and technological innovations like augmented reality for concept evaluation and early multi-locale user validation of new toys via rapid prototyping on decentralised additive manufacturing facilities (Fabrication Laboratories).
- Increasing the competitiveness of the whole EU toy industry sector by reducing toy development and safety assurance costs while increasing the flexibility of EU toy manufacturers in terms of producing customised/ localised versions of their toys, reaching new markets through alternative cost-effective channels based on local focus groups and manufacturing facilities.
- Engaging – through an efficient, feasible and well-proven approach – end customers, childhood experts, psychologists, parent associations and child-life specialists in the toy sector creativity processes, both directly via virtual and on-hand validation of toys and indirectly through social analytics and market trends analysis, transforming and empowering the product creation and development processes in the EU toy industry.
- Showcasing the ToyLabs enhanced Open Innovation Model as well as innovative technologies applied in the Toy Industry domain, paving the path for introducing similar, respectively customised, models and tools in other domains, thus contributing to the competitiveness of the EU creative industries in general.
In parallel with the aforementioned impact axes, which are focused on the Toy Industry domain and mostly on SME Manufacturers, all the stakeholders that will get involved in the ToyLabs network within the timeframe of the project, as well as after the end of it, will have the opportunity to take advantage of multiple project outcomes.
ToyLabs contributes to the underpinning purpose of “Content” to address the need for Europe to strengthen its position as provider of products and services based on individual and business creativity, to improve access, creation, management and use of data, to make information and knowledge accessible for all. To this end, ToyLabs will inflict more informed insights and collective innovation in the Toy industry SMEs, fostering innovative usages of technologies that leverage the data deluge and the tremendous potential outreach of the hyper-connected world we live in.