Vepola invests in open innovation

Vepola Industrial Coatings investigates innovative technologies and potential collaboration partners in order to provide new types of treatment systems. This SME based in Genk, focusses mainly on obtaining collateral benefits with companies in the surrounding area and investing in its own employees.

Vepola was established 26 years as an industrial coatings company for plastic, metal and wooden products. It is continually striving for environmentally friendly coatings and sustainable production methods while retaining high levels of quality. The company has realized diverse products ranging from coating, treating and protecting items that are measured in metres, right through to tiny components for light fittings. The customers come from a variety of sectors including bus and commercial vehicle builders, joinery and cabinetmaking companies, as well as interior fitters for new building developments and renovation projects. The public also use the services when carrying out renovations and making small repairs to joinery and internal woodwork.

The company decided recently that now was the time to innovate. The reason for doing this arose from a sense of stagnation caused by the economic crisis. The company decided on a growth action plan via Agentschap Ondernemen [Agency for Entrepreneurship]. The action points included internal organisation, a marketing survey and improved company profiling. The company wanted to realize the action plan within five years and decided to concentrate initially on the employees and internal communications by way of investing in training and refresher courses for the personnel. This was to ensure that everybody was on the same wavelength, as well as improving the working atmosphere.

Open innovation and obtaining collateral benefits

With help from Sirris and others, Vepola simultaneously invested effort in technological innovation. The core activities remained coatings, but in addition to this, the company wanted to offer a wider range of services and therefore began researching and testing new techniques. It also wanted to offer more preparatory and finishing services so that the end-product could go straight to the customer, thereby saving on transport costs and time.

As a result of a request from a customer, the company got in touch with Sirris in order to research the effect of a heat resistant coating on sheets of PVC. The company specialises in applying the coating and not the coating itself. Sirris suggested that they contact a number of manufacturers of such coating products. Being a supporter of open innovation, Vepola became closely involved in the setting up the inter-company collaboration. The company strongly believes in publicising knowledge in order that good results can be achieved collectively. Sirris was an important partner during the negotiations because of its experience working with SMEs, so it was able to introduce the latest innovative coating products that were available.

Although the largest proportion of its customers come from further afield - West Flanders and foreign countries - Vepola is convinced that it also offers advantages for many companies operating in Limburg. This is why it has made a survey of the market and based on the results, it will draw up a short-list of companies with whom it may be possible to collaborate.