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Factories of the Future are conquering Europe: “An additional incentive for manufacturing SME’s to start their transformation process”

Anchoring a future-proof and sustainable manufacturing industry in Europe. This is the objective of the ADMA initiative. Do you want to transform all European manufacturing SME’s into Factories of the Future? “That would be wonderful”, says Paul Peeters, Lead Expert at Agoria & Lead of the ADMA initiative. “Not so much for us, but for the companies themselves.”

Paul Peeters provides current data on the Belgian Made Different initiative and on the recently launched European ADMA initiative. Together with Peter ten Haaf, manager precision manufacturing at Sirris & ADMA Project Management Board member, and Jean-François Romainville, expert at IDEA Consult & ADMA Project Management Board member, an interesting set of thoughts were exchanged.


Belgium currently has 32 Factories of the Future. Since 2015, manufacturing companies that complete their transformation journey have been up for awards. Made Different (www.madedifferent.be) started with a scan of seven transformation domains, to provide a company with their current status and be able to compare their status with that of other companies. The transformation phase starts after this scan. Companies successfully completing the seven transformation domains can register for the Factory of the Future award. When a company wins the award, they are entitled to use the ‘Factory of the Future’ title for three years.

Around 800 Belgian companies are currently implementing this transformation. These companies include both Agoria technology industry members and an increasing number of players in the food, textile, biotech and carpentry industries. The programme’s success has not gone unnoticed in Europe. A pilot project is currently running in eight other European countries (France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Poland and Slovenia).

Even so, many companies are adopting a wait-and-see approach. In total, Belgium has 3000 manufacturers. 2000 companies have therefore not started to work on their own transformation journey. These companies consider the process either as out of their league or as unachievable. This could not be further from the truth. “They cannot afford to miss the boat”, he says. “Not all ships have sailed, although many are not even mooring here any more.” Agoria is therefore committed to convince companies to join others on the transformation journey and to provide more information on the Made Different methodology.

What is so special about a Factory of the Future?

Peter: It’s the ultimate reward for a company that completes the process successfully. The process equips companies to face the challenges of the future and get on board with technology to anchor sustainability within the company. The main point is that the methodology consists of seven transformation domains to assist the company in terms of competitiveness, skills, talent, etc.

Paul: The award is optional. Some companies make a conscious decision not to go up for the award, because some of the transformation processes are not a high priority at that time. Postponing some aspects of transformation can be a very sensible decision. But if you want to anchor sustainability within the company, changes do have to be implemented in all seven transformation domains. The process is incomplete until the last piece of the jigsaw is in place. If one piece is missing, the company remains vulnerable in that domain.

“If you want to anchor sustainability within the company, changes do have to be implemented in all seven transformation domains. The process is incomplete until the last piece of the jigsaw is in place. If one piece is missing, the company remains vulnerable in that domain.”
Paul Peeters, Lead Expert Agoria & Lead ADMA initiative

Peter: The European ADMA pilot initiative is based on Made Different’s 7 transformation domains. Based on the input from the participating European project partners, no major adjustments needed to be made. This demonstrates that Europe and especially the eight other countries running the ADMA initiative are convinced this is the right approach. We are all on the same page when discussing the process, from the quick ADMA scan through to the implementation plans and the Factory of the Future showcases we’re going to create together. Whether a company enters the process via the scan, some inspiration sessions or through apprenticeship networks, or is in the final stages of assessment for European accreditation, the domains are the same for everyone.

” We are all on the same page when discussing the process, from the quick ASDMA scan through to the implementation plans and the Factory of the Future showcases we’re going to create together “
Peter ten Haaf – Manager Precision Manufacturing at Sirris

Some companies think this is out of their league. Are they right?

Paul: Absolutely not! The programme is not just for the front-runner SME manufacturers. Two small-scale SMEs took part in the very first Belgian Factory of the Future programme, Provan and Newtec. We know many companies are not taking action because they prefer to wait and see. This is unfortunate. We do not believe in that approach. We state this very clearly towards as many manufacturing SME’s as possible.

Jean-François: Over the last years, the economic climate slightly improved in the EU, compared to some previous periods. The profit margin of various manufacturing SMEs increased. The best time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining, not when it rains. The ADMA process should therefore be initiated now in these companies, in order for them to remain competitive in the long run ! We do not want to frighten companies, but now is the time to get started.

What factors determine whether a programme is successful or unsuccessful?

Paul: It takes time for the idea to mature, to be able to determine whether the ‘vision-ambition’ feels right. Do you want to transform your company? Is there sufficient support within the company to make it happen? Would the CEO like the transformation to be based on a group effort? Does the company already have an innovation mindset?

Peter: The success of the transformation process depends on management support. All the success stories have had management buy-in from the start. The chance of success is greater when the leader is convinced this is what should be done.

Jean-François: People must be ready and open to change. Not only to improve the current way of doing things, but to change how things are done. The world is changing at a rapid pace and advanced manufacturing is a particularly fast-moving field! You must rethink how you do things, retrain employees and even question your own position within the company.

“People must be open and ready to change. The world is changing at a rapid pace. You have to rethink how you do things, retrain employees and even question your own position within the company.”
Jean-Francois – Expert at IDEA Consult

Europe has joined the Belgian SME transformation efforts through the ADMA initiative. Could the ADMA approach be considered a future standard for companies?

Paul: The method has proven itself in Belgium and Europe has recognising that this approach should be adopted elsewhere. International recognition should not discourage SME companies. On the contrary. Knowing that they are starting on a process that will exist for many years to come should be an additional incentive.

Peter: The European programme consists of two tracks. On the first track, we help 60 companies in 15 countries through the whole process, from inspiration, the scan, transformation and implementation. This is the most relevant part of the project.

Jean-François: We also want to make sure the best of the best are in contact with each other, a bit like a Champions League of the manufacturing industry. Experience shows that apprenticeships networks work well. We intend to roll out 15 apprenticeship initiatives (‘learning network events’), which will focus on specific topics and will gather the most advanced companies. Our aim is to make the best companies even better and to inspire others!

Jean-François: Further down the line, we also intend to test an ‘ADMA award’ at a European level. In the context of this pilot project (no exhaustive coverage of all the EU), the companies taking part in the award will be considered as showcases. This will allow building awareness of the programme for the years to come!

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