Thirty-two Belgian companies have already transformed into a Factory of the Future and have received the Award. Is your company next? Paul Peeters, Lead expert, Innovation at Agoria, offers hints and explains how a company can start the process of transforming into a Factory of the Future. Peter ten Haaf (Sirris), Fokus Project leader, provides information on the initial results.

Why are the Factories of the Future important?

Paul Peeters: To maximise corporate competitiveness. The aim is to contribute towards a society of prosperity, sustainability and life-long learning. These themes form the core of the Made Different approach. Manufacturers that successfully implement this approach can potentially develop into a Factory of the Future. The Made Different method provides a seven-step transformation programme. The first step of this process is to draft an optimisation plan to prepare the whole company for the future. This means the company no longer focuses only on technology and digitisation.

What are the key components of a good plan?

Paul Peeters: The Made Different and (the German government's) Industry 4.0 strategies differ in that the focus is not only on large companies and digitisation but mainly on our SMEs and human-centred production. Various studies show that the manufacturing industry today needs to be able to customise, while delivering higher quality and shorter turnaround times. Flexible, more efficient and faster production processes are required to achieve this. Digitisation and end-to-end engineering are the key enablers for mass customisation. At the 2019 awards we also noticed that the number of companies that value eco-transformation had increased exponentially compared to five years ago. Organisations and operators driving these production processes must become involved.

Which new initiatives is Agoria developing to assist corporate transformations?

Paul Peeters: We are working on several new initiatives to help companies to continuously grow and evolve. We currently have 780 companies under our wing and aim to actively support the remaining 2000 manufacturing companies in the near future. But our most significant and striking news is that we will be scaling Made Different and Factory of the Future to the whole of Europe. The first step is the Fokus project in cooperation with South Netherlands. This project that started last year bundles the knowledge, facilities and technologies of seven knowledge centres in the Netherlands and Flanders through intensive cooperation. Industry partners, such as Agoria, FME, HighTech NL and Brainport Industries, and the Sirris, Flanders Make, KU Leuven campus Brugge, Open Manufacturing Campus and TNO knowledge centres are joining forces. The first year's results are out: more than 20 employees from various organisations have been trained in this specific approach and a web-based scan is now available.

How can a company benefit from the Fokus project?

Peter ten Haaf: Companies can use the knowledge centres' infrastructure to develop and implement innovation, making it faster and easier to select the appropriate technology for their transformation into a Factory of the Future. Fieldlab Flexible Manufacturing (Eindhoven), Smart & Digital Factory Application Lab (Diepenbeek), Lab 'the ultimate factory' (Bruges) and Open Manufacturing Campus (Turnhout) thus optimise their own infrastructure. The funnel method is applied to select companies. The process starts with 200 manufacturers performing a web-based scan.

Next, 150 companies book an in-depth individual meeting with one of the project partners. 75 companies are then selected to participate in an interactive workshop. 35 of these manufacturers are then linked to one of the field labs. The process results in a concrete and individual implementation plan. After completing and analysing the scan and identifying the transformation requirements, the manufacturing companies compete for a € 10,000 voucher for support from the participating knowledge centres.

Click here for more information on the Fokus project and the Interreg programme (Flanders-Netherlands).