Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Papers in Innovation Studies,
Lund University, CIRCLE - Centre for Innovation Research

No 2021/5: Stepping-up innovation in manufacturing firms: Knowledge combinations in an Italian local production system

Monica Plechero () and Markus Grillitsch ()
Additional contact information
Monica Plechero: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Postal: Italy
Markus Grillitsch: CIRCLE, Lund University, Postal: CIRCLE - Centre for Innovation Research, Lund University, PO Box 117, SE-22100 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Industry 4.0 requires from manufacturing firms to become more innovative in order to remain relevant and competitive. To step-up firm innovation, several studies in Innovation and Economic Geography foreground that firms need to combine knowledge in novel ways either within local industrial structures or over distance. The contribution of this paper is to investigate in-depth how manufacturing firms with traditional roots combine new generative knowledge in and beyond a local production system (LPS), what enables them to access and integrate such knowledge from external sources, and how this relates to the firms’ innovation performance, with a focus on radical and varied forms of innovation. The contribution of this paper lies also in a mixed-methods research approach, which combines a population-based survey of mechatronics firms in an Italian LPS, with in-depth interviews. This allows for a qualitative interpretation of the causes of the identified distributions and correlations. The main finding of the paper is that firms generating radical innovations and varied forms of innovation combine unrelated types of knowledge in-house and through external sources. The pattern is that the traditional manufacturing knowledge of mechatronics firms still prevails but that firms increasingly complement this with new knowledge, in particular science-based analytical knowledge. Firms that have acquired complementary knowledge in-house are able to access new knowledge nationally or internationally. Even though firms source knowledge relatively frequently within the local production system, the firms who access new knowledge nationally and internationally stand out in terms of their innovation performance.

Keywords: Industry 4.0; knowledge bases; local productive system; innovation; manufacturing firms

JEL-codes: O33; R11

31 pages, June 2, 2021

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