Van de Wiele from Marke, near Kortrijk, is a machine builder for the textile industry and an established name far beyond West Flanders. Led by CEO Charles Beauduin, the company is committed to digitalisation clearly and wholeheartedly. “We’re already thinking a few steps beyond the networked factory, as a lot is already in the cloud inside and outside the factory”, says Beauduin.


“At a certain moment in time the prevailing idea in the public debate was that industry in Belgium was no longer necessary and that it was better to switch to services only and R&D with high added value”, explains Charles Beauduin, CEO of Van de Wiele. “But pure R&D without a link to reality is not sustainable. If you remove the link to production, it will eventually be doomed to completely disappear. The added value for the economy is cross-pollination of the various aspects. Remove one aspect and the whole thing becomes very unstable.” 

From Kortrijk to the cloud

Van de Wiele from Marke, near Kortrijk, is a machine builder for the textile industry and an established name far beyond West Flanders. Led by CEO Charles Beauduin, the company is committed to digitalisation clearly and wholeheartedly. “We’re already thinking a few steps beyond the networked factory, as a lot is already in the cloud inside and outside the factory”, says Beauduin.

Nevertheless, the transformation project had its ups and downs. “In the first phase we searched for hardware solutions to link the various processes in order to implement a certain type of automation”, explains Beauduin. “However, this turned out to be very expensive and not at all flexible. We’re currently at a stage where various cells together form one production cell and are linked through the cloud or local servers. This way you get an interaction between the various independently working elements.”

A concrete example of the efficiency benefits this results in: machines linked together send each other their data, while operators have access to other machines. If an operator notices an error with a machine then they can immediately check whether this problem has occurred elsewhere. 

Customised

The system at Van de Wiele is fully customised because the model cannot be copied. “We work with vertical integration across various branches. The system is flexible in the sense that machines can be added or removed. The heart of the line is still the transport system, which is not moveable.”

Investing and continuously improving

Was the whole project worth it? “Absolutely”, confirms Beauduin. “To compete with low-wage countries you need the right means and equipment that are constantly up-to-date. Annually, we invest 5% of our turnover in the factory and equipment. For R&D, this share is 10%. Compare this to our colleagues in the German machine building industry: they only invest 3.4% in equipment and 3% in R&D. It is usually a lot higher for us, but it’s the only way to continue to grow. Machine building is also the most cyclic sector. Between 2007 and 2009 we lost a staggering 45% in turnover, while our turnover doubled in 2010. A factory must be efficient and continue to operate in both periods of boom and recession, which is done by investing and continuously improving.” 

How can Agoria help you with digital transformation?

The manufacturing industry in Belgium is facing one of the greatest challenges in its history. Guaranteeing top quality, keeping small series affordable, quickly achieving large volumes, carrying out efficient administration, sustainable entrepreneurship, etc.

The digital factory is one of the seven transformations of the Factory of the Future. If you want to take the leap, contact Agoria expert Geert Jacobs.

Discover more at www.makeitinbelgium.be