Gabrovo, located in central Bulgaria, has long been one of the main industrial poles of the country: to re-launch, the city university launched a competency center, to restore links between academia and the business world and stimulate research and training
“Gabrovo has been known for decades as ‘Bulgarian Manchester’. Here we have a well-established industrial and technical tradition, rooted in the second half of the nineteenth century. There is no shortage of challenges to return to growth as well as skills and desire. I am convinced that the Center of Competence will be able to make a contribution a task “.
The words of Ilya Zilizarov, Rector of the Technical University of Gabrovo, do not hide leaps of optimism, but they are balanced by the realism of those who are accustomed to analyzing reality with a critical eye.
The Competence Center for Intelligent Technologies, Mechatronics, Environmental Systems and Energy Saving, the result of a work begun in 2012 and officially opened in 2019, is one of the most ambitious projects to put Gabrovo back in position main center Industrial and technological preservation of the city long ago in the history of modern Bulgaria.
Clinging to the northern slopes of the Balkans, in the geographical center of the country, Gabrovo has taken advantage of centuries-old artisanal traditions to establish itself, especially after independence from the Ottoman Empire, as its first and main industrial pole, thanks above all to the textile sector. The first factory was opened here in 1882, and only twenty years later, at the turn of the twentieth century, more than 20% of the entire Bulgarian industrial sector was concentrated in the city.
A tradition that did not lose its continuity after the imposition of the communist regime, which decided in 1964 to equip the city with a university center to meet the industrial needs of the region, and to revive the Gabrovo Technical University.
With the collapse of the socialist political and economic system, Gabrovo also, like all of Bulgaria, had to face a difficult and painful transition, with the closure or downsizing of the industrial giants that arose in decades of a programmed economy, such as the kombinat “Kapitan Dyado Nikola”, the largest producer of plastic things In all the Balkans for a long time.
Despite the difficulties, Gabrovo managed not to lose its industrial career, and today still 50% of employees work in this sector. “From our point of view, one of the fundamental links has been revealed, that between the university world and the world of entrepreneurs who want to re-launch themselves with innovative ideas,” says Professor Zelizarov in the bright meeting room of the Center for Competence.
That is why about ten years ago the idea of launching a center of excellence capable of revitalizing the scientific and industrial capabilities of Gabrovo was born. It was a long way to go, but thanks to European funding too [vedi box]in 2019 we reached the opening of the Competence Center, which is located on the heights behind the city, in what for many decades was a private leisure and holiday facility, intended for BCP leaders, then moved to the municipality and then made available to the university.
The center includes fourteen laboratories, equipped with the latest research and analysis equipment, and in many cases unique to both Bulgaria and the entire Balkan Peninsula. Laboratories respond for different purposes at the same time: first of all, there is scientific research, with new tools that have enabled active researchers at the center to conduct experiments and produce scientific publications.
Secondly, the possibility of involving university students and giving them a unique opportunity to combine theoretical studies and the possibility of gaining experience with the latest generation of machines and technologies.
“This possibility, unfortunately, has so far been severely limited by the Covid-19 epidemic, which has forced us to move a large part of our training activities online,” says Professor Plamen Tsankov, Vice Rector for Scientific Research and Head of the Laboratory. for the analysis of luminous objects. “Of course, once things get back to normal, students will be able to come back. In the meantime, we have already seen that practice in laboratories motivates students perhaps more than any other formative activity.”
The goal is to quickly engage the city’s high schools, especially those with a technical and professional career. The university president asserts firmly that “the effect is also psychological: with the opening of the center, many young people see that things are also moving in Bulgaria, and that there is a future for them even at home.” “Inspiring students is the single most important investment we can make for our community.”
Despite the difficulties caused by the epidemic, some laboratories have already developed a fruitful relationship with companies operating in the Gabrovo region: such as those led by Borislav Stoyanov, researcher and assistant at the Industrial Design Chair, which provides machines for “electron beam welding”, a technology that enables the possibility of Welding with high precision even between different metals.
“This technology has been developed mainly in sectors such as aviation and has special applications in the military industry. That is why, so far, at least in Bulgaria, it has remained out of the reach of civilian companies with limited financial resources,” explains Stoyanov. “It is possible today and some companies have already requested our support, such as a company that produces precision medical instruments for the operating room.”
To take advantage of the possibilities offered by the center, there are not only private companies, but also public entities. “Currently, our laboratory for luminous objects is helping the Gabrovo municipality to implement the project of general modernization of public lighting, testing the quality and characteristics of the new equipment,” says Professor Tsankov. “Until now, the only way to implement it was to involve centers in Sofia or outside Bulgaria, but now our laboratories want to establish themselves as a research and service center for our entire region, and beyond.”
The laboratory led by Professor Tsankov will soon be accredited to EU standards. “I am convinced,” he adds, “that this will give us a boost, and significantly increase interest in our services.” The prolonged health emergency related to Covid-19 has slowed down the center’s activities: an online platform has been created specifically for the return to work, facilitating communication between the center and the business world.
The optimism and entrepreneurship with which the residents of Gabrovo are known does not cancel out the many challenges that must be faced in order to relaunch the city. Despite the relatively lively economy and undeniable beauty of the surrounding landscape, the city has lost a significant portion of its population in recent decades, from more than 81,000 in 1985 to just over 51,000 in 2019.
“Demographic processes are the main problem that must be overcome for our future,” says university president Zelizarov. However, I remain optimistic. Structures like the hub can play an essential role, focusing both the technology and knowledge factor, and helping companies like Gabrovo remain viable and competitive. Because in today’s highly dynamic world,” concludes the president, “being able to change and adapt to the new is what really matters.”
This material was published in the context of the “Work4Future” project funded by the European Union (EU). The European Union is in no way responsible for the information or views expressed in the framework of the project. Responsibility for the contents rests solely with OBC Transeuropa. Go to the “Work4Future” page
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