Very well-attended arrival of Industry 4.0 in West Flanders

On 3 March the festive opening took place of the eighth Sirris branch in the buildings of Ghent University, Campus Kortrijk. The focus will be on flexible automation of assembling, to make specific technology applications, including in the context of Factories of the Future and Industry 4.0, available for mechanical engineering and mechatronics companies in West Flanders and beyond.

About 300 interested people from the province and far beyond came to Kortrijk for the opening. With the new branch near the expertise centre of industrial automation of the Campus Kortrijk of Ghent University and The Level of Howest, Sirris will from now on operate near the businesses in West Flanders. In his welcome address during the busy opening, Herman Derache, CEO at Sirris, explained what this means: “With our new branch we want to take the SMEs in West Flanders with us in the movement towards Industry 4.0. The branch lies in the heart of the dense SME network around mechatronics, and close to the research partners. It has the necessary office space and labs, including a demo space for flexible product automation.”

Panel talks provides more details

During the event a panel talk took place about the plan for mechanical engineering and mechatronics in West Flanders, which was developed by order of Sirris and the POM West-Vlaanderen, with participants from the business world and research institutions Paul Snauwaert (CNH), Geert Ostyn (Picanol), Charles Beauduin (Van de Wiele), Rik Van de Walle (Ghent University),  Koenraad De Backere (KU Leuven), Herman Derache (Sirris) and Jos Pinte (Factories of the Future Mechanical engineering  & Mechatronics).

Concretely, the discussion was about the why, what and how of the initiative. The representatives from the industry saw the importance of the initiative with a focus on mechanics and mechatronics. The large companies are the driving force behind the initiative and will encourage the SMEs. The location also seems obvious: more than 40 percent of the mechanical engineering and mechatronics industry is in West Flanders, compared to less than 10 percent of the current research and technological services in that area. It was about time that this changed. For the participating universities who also invested heavily in this project, especially the local training of more engineers is important, besides the transfer of existing activities to West Flanders.

What the companies can expect? According to Jos Pinte the initiative will be an answer to the digitalisation trend in the manufacturing industry, which comes together with the concept of Industry 4.0. The ambitions in the long term include the practical development of six topics around the two major centre cities in West Flanders within one integrated plan. With the three knowledge centres involved, i.e. Howest, Ghent University and KU Leuven, each time with Sirris as partner. All ensuing projects will be demand-driven by the businesses.

Finally, the added value of the different partners involved was discussed. Besides the obvious importance of a close cooperation between knowledge centres and companies, people will be able to rely on openness, which in practice comes down to a transfer of knowledge towards the industry. This openness will further expand to the rest of Flanders and Belgium, which will provide a complementary and strengthening effect compared to other initiatives.

To ensure success, the project counts with a young and dynamic team and an active participation of the companies, which will also have to invest to take maximum advantage of the initiative. The keywords are ‘cooperation’ and ‘focus’.

Application lab as part of a large project

When two leading companies from West Flanders, Daikin and Fomeco, came to testify about what a factory of the future is for them, Bart Verlinden of Sirris presented the plans we have with our new site and he explained the infrastructure. Besides offices and labs there is a real application lab with demonstration space, where companies can see and try out production automation in practice.

Also Jean de Bethune from POM West-Vlaanderen continued about the same topic in the closing words, where he especially thanked Jos Pinte for his work in setting up the plan for West Flanders.

Three production cells in action 

Finally, the attendees were shown around the new infrastructure of the new branch, with a focus on collaborative robots and digital tools. They took turns in group to take a tour of the demonstration space, where different set-ups were presented in three production cells. The first cell demonstrated the potential of mobile technologies, like smart glasses in production, in this case for order picking. An AGV (automated guided vehicle) brought the selected parts to a second cell, where collaborative robots showed how the cooperation with a human operator in robot-supported assembly can go. Finally, AGV brought the assembled product to the last cell, where an operator was supported by technology in his manual quality control tasks.  

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