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Four new Belgian factories have been awarded the Factory of the Future Award

Last month, in the occasion of the sixth edition of the Factory of the Future Awards ceremony in Zaventem (Brussels), Audi Brussels, Kautex Textron Benelux, Total Specialty Oils Ertvelde and Vandemoortele Izegem received the title of Factory of the Future from Belgian’s Federal Minister of Work, Economy and Consumers. “These production companies have all proved that they belong to the international top,” says Peter Demuynck, general manager of Agoria Vlaanderen. Agoria and the Sirris research centre have been awarding the prizes for six years, in collaboration with sector federations & technology centers Fevia, Fedustria, essenscia, Centexbel, Catalisti, and Flanders’ FOOD.

Factories of the Future must invest in digitisation, in smart processes and in world-class production. They also need to handle energy and materials in a well-considered way and pay attention to employee involvement, creativity and autonomy. Starting in April 2020, Agoria and Sirris organize a series of company visits to the Factories of the Future.

International success

Not only the Factories of the Future spread their wings and focus on the international market. Agoria and Sirris are doing the same. They promote their vision of the Factory of the Future in Europe, which has not gone unnoticed. In Germany, the attention for ‘people’ is growing in Industry 4.0, the Netherlands has taken over the concept of ‘Factory of the Future’ since last year and 15 other European countries, under the auspices of the European Commission, are also preparing to integrate a similar action programme in their approach.

Mark Nicklas, Head of Unit Industrial Strategy & Value Chains at the European Commission and keynote speaker at the event, was very clear : “Factories of the Future not only need to embrace industry 4.0 technologies, but also need to become 4.0 organisations. These organisations consist of well-trained people able to engage with many different stakeholders in 4.0 collaboration projects.”

The ADMA Initiative, performed on behalf of the European Commission’s Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME), strongly builds on a holistic approach.  Next to addressing technology oriented transformaton areas (T1 – Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, T2 – Digital Factory, T4 – End-to-end Customer Focussed Engineering and T6 – Smart Manufacturing), it also explicitely includes non technological transformations (T3 – ECO Factory, T5 – Human-Centred Organisation and T9 – Value chain oriented Open Factory)

Mark also shared some  insights on how to engage SME’s into a transformation journey :

  1. The ADMA train-the-trainer approach has already proved to be very instrumental helping SME’s locally throughout Europe in their own language
  2. SME CEO’s themselves need to take the ownership, which is not always easy given the daily pressure they experience from ever-rapidly changing customer and shareholder requests
  3. Manufacturing SMEs are clearly looking for inspiring cases, which can trigger both their shareholder and their people to start transforming.

More investments create more jobs

Over the past five years, the 38 awarded Belgian Factories of the Future have invested more than 1.7 billion euros in infrastructure renewal, digitisation and automation. In addition, their employment increased by 17 percent over the past five years. “This is proof that digitisation, robotisation and automation are not at the expense of employment.  On the contrary, thanks to the growth in productivity and turnover of these benchmark companies, new jobs have been created” says Geert Jacobs, innovation expert at Agoria.

In the meantime, more than 600 Belgian manufacturing companies have started their own transformation journey, under the guidance of the partners of the Factory of the Future programme.

Digitised manufacturing processes

In order to grow into a Factory of the Future, the companies have to go through seven transformations. “With the Factory of the Future action programme, we have been guiding the Belgian manufacturing industry towards sustainable local anchoring since 2012, by introducing industry 4.0 concepts, among others,” says Herman Derache, Managing Director of Sirris. “To remain successful – despite or thanks to rapid technological, economic and social developments – our companies need to reinvent themselves and also use energy and materials in a well-considered way, in addition to a people-oriented approach. Production and industry 4.0 are not yet fully established in the companies, there is still work to be done to get them on board in the transformations and to coach them towards success. Sirris takes care of that with 4.0 Made Real, a practical trajectory where we advise and guide companies in their 4.0 approach”.

‘Factories of the Future’ design, produce and deliver customer-specific products with high added value and have the agility to respond quickly to rapidly changing market demand. With an open mind for new business models, ‘Factories of the Future’ are fully committed to digitised production processes. They make maximum use of modern production technologies.

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