Manufacturing companies can no longer ignore it: their customers increasingly expect customised products, delivered within a short term and, preferably, without paying more. Companies that succeed in responding to this need have a major competitive edge. Still, this is not at all obvious: current production systems are designed to manufacture large quantities of exactly the same product. With the Smart Factory Benelux initiative, Flanders Make joins forces with companies in view of jointly realising the much needed transformation towards smart, digital factories. Bosch Rexroth and Pilz helped to create the first demonstration plant, which was presented during the trade fair ‘Indumation’ in the presence of Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois. Its purpose: inspiring companies in the whole Benelux region to join this Industry 4.0 initiative.
Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois: “Whatever doomsayers may claim, the future for the manufacturing industry in Flanders looks quite promising. It is a powerful motor for our economy and creates prosperity for 173,000 employees and 5,155 companies, accounting for 24% of our export and 60% of the private resources for research and development. Industry 4.0 is the key: comprehensive connectivity, smart machines, robotics, etc. Flanders currently ranks among the innovation leaders in the EU. Together, we are preparing the future.”
Dirk Torfs, CEO of Flanders Make, shares this view: “Manufacturing customised products at the price and speed of serial production is a major challenge. Companies joining SmartFactoryBNL help to set up a joint digital production system that will enable them to demonstrate new state-of-the-art technologies and work together with one another in realistic working conditions. By integrating their technology, manufacturing companies can also learn to make their own flexible manufacturing system that can be easily adapted to new product variants.”
SmartFactoryBNL is a demonstration platform that is being built step by step together with a growing group of companies and is shown during events across the Benelux. The scoop is for the trade fair Indumation 2019, Belgium’s most important trade fair for industrial automation (6-8 February, Kortrijk Expo).
“At this moment, this smart factory works continuously and autonomously, a next step may be adding a robot that cooperates with people and, after this, the creation of digital twins. These are digital versions of physical products and systems, which engineers will increasingly use during their product design, simulation, optimisation and maintenance works. Also the operators in this factory are supported through digital work instructions, adapted to their specific knowledge and experience”, explains Gregory Pinte, R&D Manager at Flanders Make.
Joining this project is very interesting for providers of, for instance, automation technology, robots and IT solutions and for manufacturing companies that wish to develop into digital factories for the future.
The Smart Factory concept comes from Germany, where the renowned professor and Industry 4.0 pioneer Detlef Zülke has already brought together 50 companies and research partners to develop a manufacturer-independent digital production system. Here, the latest and most promising technologies are further developed and demonstrated year after year.
Flanders Make now brings this successful German concept to the Benelux, developing it further and enriching it with its own expertise. The smart demonstration factories in Germany and the Benelux will also be virtually connected to one another to gain experience with connected factories and learn from each other. The knowledge that is acquired here will also be made available to a wide group of companies committed to innovation.